worship Posts

What is Prayer?

One day (in Luke 11) Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him a question. These were, essentially, Jewish boys who had grown up learning the Torah, reciting the Shema, and all their lives they had been taught to pray certain prayers, specifically three times a day. On this day, they heard Jesus pray and simply hearing Him pray prompted them to then ask the question: “Can you teach us how to do that!?” Clearly He was praying in a way that they were not. What they heard from Him was something new, something different. This is significant- as they followed Jesus every day, they saw something in His life- and they knew it was driven by prayer. They heard Him pray to a God that He called “Father”- with such intimacy, such humility, such confidence and power- that they asked Him to teach them how to pray just like that.

Maybe you’ve never asked Jesus to teach you how to pray. Maybe you have never asked anyone to teach you how to pray. How do we learn how to pray? We learn from others around us and, primarily, we have learned to pray (or not pray) from our parents.

Read Matthew 6:5-13 What is it that keeps us from praying as we should? We don’t feel that we need to pray, we feel that we should pray. Is it a lack of knowledge or we don’t know how to pray? Is it a lack of faith- or belief – that God actually answers prayer- that prayer really does change things? I think that’s the problem for many of us. Have we become so distracted by technology- focused on our televisions, our smart phones, tablets, and computers that we can’t even focus enough to get quiet before the Lord? I think for some that is the case. Years ago I was challenged as a young minister, from a pastor who said, “the one thing you must do is this: You must ruthlessly eliminate noise/hurry from your life- spend time daily, with God in prayer.”

What is prayer?

Jesus said that God knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). So this begs a huge question, doesn’t it? Why pray at all? If you have come to the point where you’re asking that question, then you are on the verge of a great breakthrough in your life regarding prayer! Perhaps after all, prayer is not first and foremost about asking God for things. For many of us, prayer has been one big adventure in missing the point. What if prayer has little to do with me and is actually all about God? This is what Jesus taught us.

Prayer is communion with God, adoring Him for who He is and imploring Him for what He gives.

Prayer is paying attention to God- to Who He is, what He’s done, and what He wants to do through me. Now, we’ve intentionally chosen words here that we don’t use- powerful words that get to the heart of prayer:

  • Adore – to love, honor, and respect (someone) deeply; to worship, venerate; to take great pleasure in (something or someone).
  • Implore – to ask or beg for (something) in a very serious or emotional way; to beg someone earnestly or desperately to do something. 

Jesus says, when you come before God, don’t forget you come before a loving Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” 1 John 3:1

Prayer is communion with God, adoring Him for who He is. The first part of The Lord’s prayer is all about adoring Him for who He is. Like everything else in life, it’s all about God’s glory.

Three petitions

  • His name – the name (in Hebrew) encompasses the complete person. “Hallowed”- HOLY, treated with the highest honor. He’s set apart. Do you struggle to adore God? Then meditate on Jesus- who HE is and all that He has done for you.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 1:3

  • His kingdom The presence of God’s kingdom refers to the reign of Christ in our hearts and lives as believers, and to the reigning presence of Christ in His Body, the Church. Disciples who follow Jesus every day, will increasingly reflect Christ’s love, obey His commands, honor Him and proclaim the Gospel- the Good News of the kingdom. Part of adoring Him for who He is leads us to cry out for Him to come reign on earth as He does in heaven. This is in line with the promise in John 15 to give us whatever we ask in the context of spiritual fruit.

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:7-8 As you Adore God for His glory, ask, plead, implore Him to bring His kingdom to His church, in His city and in His world. Ask in the name of Jesus for Him to bear fruit through you- advancing His kingdom on earth.

  • His will You know how to get what you’re praying for? You determine what

God’s will is and then you ask for it! This is why the WORD of God is so important. This is why the community of faith is so important. If you pray “in His name”, according to His name, His character, His person- your prayers will be answered 100% of the time. This is why Oswald Chambers, wrote: “To say that, ‘prayer changes things’ is not as close to the truth as saying, ‘Prayer changes me…” and then, by His power He changes things thought me. Prayer changes the way you look at things, approach things, desire things. David Platt said, “It is true that the purposes of God are unchanging. It is also true that the plan of God is unfolding.” And He’s chosen us to accomplish His plans.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.” John 15:16

Think about how revolutionary Jesus’ teaching is here: If you first approach prayer with your mind and heart set on WHO God is, spend some time adoring Him, praising Him for the fact that He is hallowed, holy, He is God. Adore Him – now implore Him. You see how that changes everything? You’re now going to pray in accordance with His character and His will, “in His name”. This unlocks the power of extraordinary prayer – prayer as it is meant to be. Prayer as Jesus, our Savior, has taught us.

A Holy Separation Anxiety

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:46

We call it “Good Friday”. But like everything else on the day of His death, it was good for us, but terrible for our Lord Jesus. As you go about your day today, consider these facts: Early on that Friday morning, after no sleep the night before, Jesus was taken to Pilate’s prison. He was beaten by professional torturers who knew their craft all too well. He was then presented to the crowd who chose a notorious prisoner over the very Son of God. Throughout the night Jesus was silent, ironically, directing the entire process that led to His death. He was taken into the courtyard (called the Praetorium) and the entire company of soldiers surrounded Him. They stripped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, a staff in His hand, and knelt down before Him in mockery. They spat on Him and blind-folded Him, punching Him many times, as hard as they could. Later that morning, exhausted and famished, He carried His own cross, most of the way to Golgotha. At 9:00 am, the executioners impaled Him through His wrists and His feet, with long spikes, and fastened Him to the cross. Darkness came over the earth from noon until 3:00 pm.

At 3:00 pm, in anguish, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, Jesus was experiencing the wrath of the Father (His holy reaction to sin), as He “became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was abandoned by the Father, so that you and I would never be. Then Jesus cried out, “It is finished!”, and He died. At this final cry of victory, God’s inflexible holiness and His unconditional love collided as our redemption was made possible. Around 5:00 pm the women came to prepare His body for burial and at 6:00 pm they placed Him in the tomb. A massive stone was rolled into place as the sun set on the saddest day in history. And the angels were silent as all creation watched to see what would happen next.

As you go throughout this day, be in a constant state of remembrance, meditating on what happened to our Lord Jesus. Think about each event as if it was happening today. Consider the horrific emotional strain Jesus faced, knowing He was about to endure a slow, painful death, and greater still, the anticipation of the very wrath of God upon sin that would come upon Him. And remember, He did all of this for you and me. Remember also that it’s Friday, the saddest day in history, but Sunday’s coming. Praise Him.

Pray:  Lord, today I will walk with You through Your sufferings. I will meditate on every phase of Your sacrifice for me and give thanks to You/ My heart breaks over my sin that put You on the cross. May I always remember what You have accomplished for me. And may Your love for me lead me to love You, to obey You, and bring glory to You Name.

The Life of a Servant

Thursday night before His death

“After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”  John 13:5

On the night before His death, Jesus would teach one of the greatest lessons of His ministry to His disciples. The Master-Teacher would use object lessons, symbols, and hands-on teaching to make His point. The first lesson was on servanthood; the second was on sacrifice. The first involved the washing of His disciples’ dirty feet – an act performed only by a servant, not a master. When He finished, He didn’t say, “Now that I’ve washed your feet, you wash mine”, (as we would have done). Instead He said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). You see, the way we express love to Jesus is by expressing love to one another. The way we serve Him is by serving others.

The second lesson was around the table as He took the well-known elements of the Passover Meal and re-interpreted them as fulfilled by Him. The matzo bread – the “bread of affliction” – (which was always pierced and always striped), represented His body. The cup of redemption represented His blood shed for them. How unusual it must have been as Jesus brought new meaning to these ancient symbols; how amazing it must have been after His death and resurrection to understand with crystal clarity what He meant. And now we know as well.

“The Master will dress himself to serve and tell the servants to sit at the table, and He will serve them.”  Luke 12:37

Pray:  Lord, thank You for Your amazing act of servanthood and Your example of sacrifice for me. I want to live the life of a servant. I will love someone for free today and, in so doing, I will be expressing my love to You. Tonight, as I lay down my head for a night of peaceful sleep, I will remember the sleepless night You had as You were arrested, tried, and beaten on my behalf. Thank you, for the soulful rest you bring because of the peace you have brought to those who trust in You.

Jesus, the Incomparable Substitute

As Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism was dying, his devoted followers asked how they should keep his memory alive, propagate his greatness. He said, “Don’t bother. Tell them not to remember me, but adhere to my teachings. They can forget me, but let my teachings be propagated around the world.” This sounds like a very self-less, humble response. But Jesus would have never said anything like this. If He had it would validate what many people think: that Jesus was yet another religious leader whose primary message was, “work harder, get better”. It would confirm what a lot of Christians seem to believe today – that Jesus came to initiate a new and improved behavior modification project. As if Jesus came to help us get better. Clearly Jesus taught us much, but think about it, what was at the heart of His teaching?

The central focus of Jesus’ teaching was His identity, who He was and is. He would have never said, “Forget me, just follow my teachings.” He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” It may sound self-evident but at the heart of the Christian faith is Christ Himself, Who He is and what He has done. So, it’s paramount that we get our Christology right (who He is) above all else and then put everything else at it’s service. Here’s why:  Your view of Christ determines your response to Him. The Person of Jesus – His character, His identity, and the essence of His nature is clearly revealed in the Gospel accounts and is brought into undeniable focus and clarity the final week of His life.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem begins with a counter-procession, presenting a contrary way, a rival king, a contrasting social order, and an opposing theology, ushering in an alternative kingdom – the kingdom of God.

Jesus said His kingdom is “not of this world,” and it contrasts the kingdom of the world in every possible way. This is not a simple contrast between good and evil, but rather two fundamentally different ways of doing life, two fundamentally different belief systems- two fundamentally different loyalties. This King is ushering in a different kind of kingdom and it’s embodied in the King Himself.

This is why the angry pursuit of the religious leaders ramped up the final week of His life. In the end, He was not crucified because He talked about loving others or caring for the poor. He was crucified because of who He claimed to be. In the end, He lived the perfect life for us, suffered and died, taking on our shame and punishment, and He rose again, conquering death and hell- this is the Gospel, the Good News that has rescued us from death and hell. He is the King we worship, the One we proclaim, and the One we follow every day.

This Holy Week, let’s tell others who Jesus really is. Tell them He is not another good example, but our incomparable Substitute.

 

“Who is the LORD that I should obey Him?”

The question Pharaoh asked Moses is the modern question of our day. As we read the Old Testament, we often think that these people are primitive, uneducated, even barbaric. We have a general idea that we are progressively getting smarter and better. We have better medicine, technology, faster transportation; we’re enlightened, educated, modern. But at the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.

The Pharaoh was a highly educated, affluent man. He is the modern man and his question is the question of our day. The entire story of the plagues, and the Exodus, hinges on his question: “Who is the LORD and why should I obey Him?” Exodus 5:2 Our entire story hinges on this question as well. The Pharaoh was not an atheist, but a polytheist. He had no trouble believing in gods, as long as they served him. But to believe in a god that would actually tell him what to do was preposterous. Not unlike most of us today.

Some struggle with God, thinking He is too harsh, judgmental and wrathful. Instead, we fail to see that in His mercy He rescues you from our gods, that will otherwise crush us. It is His mercy, not His wrath that saves us. In His wrath is His mercy. His judgement is mercy. “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2

God’s judgment comes upon those who disregard Him. But even in His warnings of judgment there is mercy. Like the Pharaoh, we need a renewed vision of who God is.

By His grace, through warnings and judgment, God lovingly draws us to Himself. Every plague has a corresponding Egyptian god and what the LORD (Yahweh) is doing is answering Pharaoh’s question with each subsequent plague: “Who is LORD? I am the one, true God and I am greater than your false gods. I will crush them for your good and for my glory.”

Consider: what are the gods we serve in our day? And what corresponding plagues might God bring into our lives so that we would turn to Him and worship Him alone? What plagues might God unleash on us in order to show His supremacy, His place as the LORD, so that He might satisfy our soul’s desire? Just a few examples:

Our gods and the plagues that confront us

Comfort – the plague of inconvenience God will bring discomfort, perhaps Illness, relational struggles that confront us. Like gnats or flies, they may seem small at first, but they destroy our peace and comfort. All of this, so we will turn to Him and find that He alone is our Comfort and Peace.

Control – the plague of chaos The god of control says, “I will control how I live, how I look, how my life goes. I will cover every possible contingency, I will prepare, build an impenetrable wall around me. I will build an emotional wall around me. I will not let anyone in. I will control my environment.” In his famous poem, Invictus, William Henley (an atheist), writes (from a hospital bed), these last two stanzas: “Beyond this place of wrath and tears. Looms but the Horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years finds, and shall find me, unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Henley echoes the Pharaoh’s question: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey Him?” Instead, our desire to control our lives results in impotence, disorganization, mismanagement, addictions. It’s why all alcoholics know that the first of the 12 steps to recovery is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” We must admit that you are NOT in control.

Success – the plague of dissatisfaction Success is never up and to the right always. And even if it is, we are left empty if success has become our functional god. This week, Tom Brady will start in his eighth Super Bowl. He’s won five. Surely, he is the GOAT, the greatest of all time. Brady is handsome, married to a model wife, and worth millions (billions?) of dollars. In a moment of rare vulnerability, on 60 Minutes, in an interview with Steve Kroft, Brady said, “This is what it is- this guy (himself) has it all. But I think, “there has to be more than this.” Kroft asked, “What’s the answer?” Brady responded, “I wish I knew, I wish I knew.” At the pinnacle of success he is plagued with dissatisfaction.

Approval – the plague of rejection Our desire for approval is met with the plague of disapproval, even self-condemnation. For the person who worships the god of approval, rejection is devastating. In a world of social media, the need for approval escalates to devastating results.

How can we discern our idols? Your deepest emotions will point you to your idols, to the gods you worship. Look at your anger, anxiety; what do you think about that makes you worry? What makes you really sad? Most often our anxiety is caused by the thought of losing something we love, something we worship- a god.

But what if God, by His mercy, is drawing us to Him? Paul asks: What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath- prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.” Romans 9:22-23

At the cross, God’s unending grace and His inflexible holiness collided and our salvation was made possible. On the Cross He brought mercy for sinners and judgment on sin that came upon Jesus. You and I were spared the ultimate plague of sin’s shame and death.

We find purpose and ultimate satisfaction in GOD alone, through Christ alone. The process that comes as God strips us of our idols is painful. But He does this so that you will turn to Him and rejoice in His presence and praise Him as you discover that He is enough.

 “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

In His wrath, He has remembered mercy.