My Most Empowering Prayer

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Many people limit prayer to their understanding of what is “spiritually important.” They don’t want to bother God, or they don’t think God is really interested in everyday matters.

What, then, do we make of Jesus’ words, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).

Here’s my working principle: If it matters to me, it matters to God.

So how do we apply this to our daily responsibilities?

What burden(s) do you feel as you live for the Lord in daily life?

One significant aspect of my vocation is communicating God’s Word through preaching, teaching and writing. The burden of this responsibility has grown as I’ve seen how powerless I am to change human hearts and minds. I may be interesting or even inspiring for a moment, but that falls far short of “taking every thought captive to obey Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

My work as a pastor is like many other careers. There is, however, a unique dynamic to ministry that affects us all, whether we serve as “volunteers” or as our vocational calling. It’s expressed well by P. T. Forsyth (1848–1921), a Scottish theologian.

The work of ministry labors under one heavy disadvantage when we regard it as a profession and compare it with other professions. In these [other professions], experience brings facility, a sense of mastery in the subject, self-satisfaction, self-confidence; but in our subject [of ministry], the more we pursue it, the more we enter into it, so much more are we cast down with the overwhelming sense not only of our insufficiency, but of our unworthiness.

No wonder Paul asked, “Who is sufficient (competent) for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).

I have found hope in Jesus’ words to his disciples, “When they drag you into their meeting places, or into police courts and before judges, don’t worry about defending yourselves—what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there. The Holy Spirit will give you the right words when the time comes” (Luke 12:11-12, The Message).

Based on this promise, I have developed a prayer that has energized my preparation and presentations for many years. “Lord, give me what you want to give me for your people.” And before I speak, I pray, “Lord, give us what you want to give us in this time.” (I mentioned this briefly in my blog “Pray with Open Hands,” September 23, 2019).

It’s a joy hearing people comment, “That message (blog, teaching) was just what I needed. I felt like you were speaking right to me.”

Recently, I spoke at a men’s gathering at our church we call Man Night. The next day I received this email:

Doug thanks for last night. After a very long day yesterday, while getting the kids off to the High School group and my wife off to her Bible study, I told her I was fried and would probably skip Man Night. I was worn out and just not feeling it for some reason.  Then God tapped me on the shoulder, telling me I ought to go.

Then this man, whom I’ll call James, described how he remembered my talk was on staying motivated as Jesus’ disciples—and that he really needed motivation. In my talk, I presented Jesus’ strategy of invitation, not condemnation. I departed from my notes and made some applications to parenting. I shared how it’s easy for parents to become anxious and pressure our children. We condemn them instead of discovering how to invite them into God’s better way. “James” continued his email:

I feel like we’re continually condemning our high schoolers, which just causes more of arguments. So, the power and confidence to back off on the condemnation and instead model Jesus, guiding more through grace, like the examples you gave, was powerful medicine. Thanks be to God.

So, I came for one message, but was moved by another that I wasn’t thinking about, but I really needed help with.  Sounds just about the way God works.  Sometimes the most important thing is just showing up.

I had not planned to speak on parenting, but that was what the Holy Spirit gave me to give these men, especially James.

Prayer can empower us to fulfill the most significant responsibilities of our lives.

The Lord is ready to give his blessings to others through us. The big question is: Are we ready to receive them and pass them on?

“Lord, give us what you want to give others through us. In the strong name of Jesus. Amen!”

Getting God’s Attention?

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How do I connect with God?

Is there something I need to do?

Do I have to impress God?

Does God really care? I’m not so sure God wants to connect with me!

Deep down, many of us have questions and feelings like these. We’re entering the season of Lent when Jesus’ followers give focused attention to these questions. But there is a fundamental assumption that must be addressed to determine whether Lent is a season of effort or a season of freedom. Before we consider that, what is Lent?

Lent is one of those old “churchy” words that seems to be coming back into use as Jesus’ followers explore the practice of the “Christian Year.” One of the fascinating trends in spiritual formation has been called “ancient-future worship” (a term coined by Robert E. Webber) in which Jesus’ followers are blending ancient practices of God’s people with contemporary worship and spirituality. There’s a new appreciation for tradition, especially when it is distinguished from traditionalism.

Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.  Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering we are where and when we are and that it is we who have to decide.  Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.

SOURCE: Christianity Today, Jaraslav Pelikan in an interview in U.S. News and World Report (June 26, 1989).

Symphonic composer Gustav Mahler said, “Tradition is not the worship of the ashes, but the keeping of the fire!” Tradition is a gift given us from previous generations to be understood, assessed and reinterpreted in our day. Remember, we will pass our tradition to those who follow. May they see it as fire, not ashes.

The Christian Year includes Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, Pentecost and Kingdomtide or Ordinary Time. The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts for eight Sundays, followed by Holy Week which includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. The word “Lent” comes from an Old English word that simply refers to the lengthening of days as we enter Spring time. It is not a theological term, but speaks about the changing of the seasons. Lent is a penitential season. We prepare our hearts for the Easter message by focusing on our sin and our need for repentance and salvation. The forty days of Lent (which do not count Sundays because Sundays are always ‘Resurrection days’ for believers) also remind us of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness and Jesus’ forty days in the desert.

One of the themes of Lent is fasting, abstaining in full or in part from particular foods and/ or activities. Here’s where we get back to my opening question: Is Lent a season of effort and obligation or a season of freedom? In my experience, many view fasting as a way of showing God they sincerely regret their spiritual apathy and repent from their sin. In other words, it could be seen as their way of getting God’s attention. As if God will really pay attention to them because of their exceptional efforts. Please understand, I am not devaluing these efforts. But I think we need to examine our theological assumptions if we think we need to impress God with our sincerity to get God’s attention.

Scripture gives countless assurances that we have God’s continual attention:

Psalm 139 (selected verses)
1 O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
7 I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!…
13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb…
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

Jesus said, “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows (Luke 12:6-7 NLT).

You see, the problem isn’t God’s attention, it’s ours! The spiritual disciplines, including fasting, are tools, means, practices and habits to enable us to develop a deeper awareness and mindfulness of God. As we truly repent, we are not earning God’s grace. We are receiving it more fully.

In Lent we don’t give things up to get God’s attention, but to give God our attention.

 

 

 

 

Ctrl+Alt+Del

“Ctrl+Alt+Del” can be a powerful daily cue for spiritual focus.

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Ever go through a routine for the umpteenth time and suddenly ask yourself, “Huh, I wonder why we do this?” That’s what happened recently when I turned on my computer and the “Ctrl+Alt+Del command” appeared on the screen (Ok, so now you know I’m a PC user, not a hip-and-cool MacBook guy). So I did the search thing and found an article in Wikpedia (it was adequate for this) that explained it this way:

Control+Alt+Delete (often abbreviated to Ctrl+Alt+Del) is a computer keyboard command on IBM PC compatible computers, invoked by pressing the Delete key while holding the Control and Alt keys: Ctrl+Alt+Delete. The function of the key combination differs depending on the context but it generally interrupts or facilitates interrupting a function.

This is known as a “soft reboot,” or re-start function.

Well, enough nerd talk. Looking beyond it, I see a message for spiritual health. One of the keys to spiritual vitality is learning to become aware of God and pay attention to our spiritual welfare throughout the day. In my first blog post, “Stop, Look and Listen,” I shared the concept of Cues and Clues: Cues and clues to life’s deeper meaning and purpose surround us in every moment. But it’s so easy to miss them. This is one of them: “Ctrl+Alt+Del” can be a powerful daily cue for spiritual focus. The keyboard can “interrupt” our normal, too-often-nonspiritual, functioning so we can spiritually reboot.

First, “Ctrl” or Control reminds us to “release Control to God.” One of our greatest burdens in life is thinking we have control and that we have to make things happen. On the flip side, one of the most discouraging things in life is feeling powerless and out-of-control. Faith brings us back to the awareness of God’s kind, loving oversight of our lives. I draw great strength from Jesus’ words,

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7 New Revised Standard Version NRSV).

That kind of reassurance takes me a long way toward trusting God more and more with more and more. I could list many more passages from the Bible, but let’s move on.

Second, “Alt” invites God to “Alter our mind, heart, soul and way of living.” I believe Jesus’ followers want to live differently. We don’t want to be stuck in the same dark thoughts, the same lousy habits, and the same undisciplined, worldly-driven lives. And, praise God, we don’t have to stay stuck. God is in the change business. That change starts with the fact that we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). God has given us the Holy Spirit to change us completely from the inside out. But that doesn’t happen automatically. God has designed us to mature by inviting the Holy Spirit, God’s power within us, to lead us into the fullness of life in Christ. The Holy Spirit helps us think like Jesus. The Holy Spirit empowers us to act like Jesus. The Holy Spirit is shaping the life of Jesus within us. Here is the staggering description of what God is now doing in us:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 New Revised Standard Version NRSV).

That is life-altering, friend! “From one degree of glory to another.”

And third, (you can see where this is going, right?) by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, God “Deletes the sins that still preoccupy our thoughts.” Many of us live with a low-grade depression because of regrets that weigh us down and because of thoughts and behaviors we can’t seem to release. A daily (or more frequent) spiritual reboot reminds us that God is not surprised by our sin. In grace and mercy, God’s Spirit continues the work of healing, restoring and strengthening us to overcome sin’s power.

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 1:9-2:1 New Revised Standard Version NRSV).

So when you log on to your computer, let “Ctrl+Alt+Del” be your log-in to Jesus and the Spirit’s power.