Tag Archives: prayer

Don’t come to this party!

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Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Did you know pastors occasionally hold parties? We do. Sometimes we welcome people into our homes to eat, talk and enjoy one another’s company. These can be blessed times. Actually, doing this is one sign of being qualified to serve as an elder (pastor is an elder). 1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:8 both say he must be hospitable. Well, last night I threw a party, but of another variety—one not very hospitable. This party, also, is one seldom people believe their pastors would have. However, it is one quite common among us. It was a pity party.

Last night, I found myself feeling some of the pressures of the fishbowl. You see, pastors are constantly under scrutiny. If you think the internet is quick to get offended at even the slightest perceived discretion, try the average American church goer. We mastered offense and shaming far before there was an internet. Well, last night I found myself just wishing to be able to simply share what I feel and think without the constant need to filter it through how it will be perceived as by others. I have a good friend who is very blunt, apparently holding nothing back. If he is thinking something, everyone knows it. If he is upset about something, it is not hidden. Of course some of my friends are going to be shocked because they doubt I hold much back—if they only knew.

This pressure can weigh quite heavily on a pastor. Many people will share their experiences of the church trying to force compliance upon a church member, of judging them and condemning them for every little discretion, no matter how slight or even if imagined. Actually, many of the people to whom this is most commonly done are pastors. This is why in some segments of the church the average pastorate only lasts nine months. Actually, of all the men who enter into pastoral ministry a large group will not continue more than a few years.

I say all this not so you will join me in my pity party. I say it because it is the foundation for my sharing something from the Word of God that I think He gave me. I was, in my pity party, getting very tempted to just drop the filter and just spew forth what I was feeling—to vent my spleen about something. However, this morning while praying for my church and reading scripture I read Isaiah 38 and 39. In Isaiah 39, Hezekiah was visited by an envoy from Babylon because his king had heard of Hezekiah’s deathbed recovery. Hezekiah, being proud, and perhaps overconfident showed him all the wealth of his household and of God’s temple. The prophet came to him warning that within the lifetime of Hezekiah’s sons all that treasure would be plundered and carried off to Babylon.

You will again be surprised to hear that this spoke to me about my pity party and my desire for the freedom to simply show my feelings without a filter. Hezekiah should have filtered himself and limited what he showed the envoy. That would have been wisdom. We can actually see some of the same foolishness of Joshua and the treaty with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9). Hezekiah thought Babylon was so far away he discerned no danger in showing them everything (Isaiah 39:3c).

Though I wanted the freedom to openly share feelings and opinions without thought of consequence, it would be unwise. You see, God is working on me. All humans go through these times. We get depressed. We get upset. We want to simply let rip and pour out whatever we feel or think with no regard for what people might think. This can actually be cathartic. I do it regularly in prayer. When feeling really down I go into a quiet private place and yell prayers at God. I demand he respond. I play the part of Job and insist that he show me why he isn’t doing what I expect. Every time he soothes my heart and comforts me. By the way, if you think there is something wrong with doing this you should read the Psalms, where David—the man after God’s own heart—does this same thing.

What today’s reading did was remind me there are things we would be wise to keep private. When I am upset with someone, it is usually best to keep it quiet—something I am still learning. When I really want to chime in on something that will upset a person for whom I care, it may be best to keep it to myself. Perhaps you will say, “But wait! Hezekiah was showing off treasures. How can you apply this here?” Well, these areas that I want to spill and these times I get down are areas and times where God is working on me. He is turning these negative feelings and qualities into virtue, a far more important treasure than gold. When I share these things before wisdom would have it, I simply end up with more work needed—and relationships possibly ruptured. When this happens, the blessings which this relationship could have been are metaphorically carried away. I have allowed myself to be plundered. I have opened the store room of my heart and let the enemy carry away my blessings—and even helped him carry away the bigger more valuable ones. Believe me, this is a lesson I do not want to learn. In my pre-Christ flesh I had two emotions: anger and not anger. Occasionally, old dead Ken shows up and wants to wreak havoc.

This doesn’t mean we never share. This doesn’t mean always wear a mask blocking anyone from seeing the true us. Actually, this means the exact opposite. To protect the store room of our hearts we need trusted friends to share with—those friends with whom we can share the key. We need people with whom we can pour out the bile that builds up. People who will listen and respond in love no matter how self-pitying we may be.

Do you have someone with whom you can share? Have you tried spilling your guts before God and simply telling him what’s in your heart without the phony pretend piety? He won’t be surprised—since he already knows what’s in there.

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Building the Kingdom with Kingdom Tools

Isaiah 30:1-2 (ESV):

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We as a church want to reach our community. We want to draw people in and disciple them to be followers of Jesus who truly live like him, demonstrating his character in our community. Only in this way will we transform our community and bring peace to those around us suffering under the weight of sin. However, this passage reminds me of an error that is far too easy to fall into. It’s easy to default to the ways and methods of the world and overlook reliance upon the Spirit of God.

In the geopolitical setting of Isaiah, it was natural when threatened by one country to approach another country for protection. If a small weak people could find protection in stronger people most would see this as common sense. God is warning his people about seeking security using the ways of the world. They should turn to him for protection. They should repent of their sins and trust in his Spirit. Instead they found it easier to trust in Pharaoh.

The reason this so struck me is the knowledge that we as a church can easily be tempted to neglect prayer and dependence upon God by replacing these with the world’s tools. Marketing and branding are a part of our world today. They are also important considerations for the church. In a way they are just secular terms for essential spiritual practices. We want a positive name and testimony so the world thinks of us positively. This, the world calls ‘branding.’ We also want the community to know we exist, where to find us and what we have to offer. This, the world calls ‘marketing.’

Such terms are not evil. Neither are the methods they describe—so long as they are honest, giving an accurate portrayal of Christ. What is wrong is leaning upon these worldly tools while neglecting the spiritual tools: prayer, witnessing, loving. We can create radio and print ads, for example. Yes, they are outreach tools and can draw in people. Some will be believers seeking a church home; others will be nonbelievers, giving us a chance to reach them. However, we must remember limits of these. They must be kept in their proper place.

We do this through prayer. Everything we do as a church must be bathed in personal and corporate prayer. Prayer can give power and impetus to the tools we use, even those of the world. However, if the tools of the world replace prayer we should expect the world’s results—and the world can deliver no one from sin.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Prayer is only part of our communication with God. We must expect God to answer. His way of answering is to speak to us through his Word. We must be a people who seek God’s direction coming to him in prayer and then digging into his Word expecting him to speak to us. Both sides of the equation are necessary.

By keeping both in our focus we communicate with God, seeking his will and receiving guidance.

We also must keep the tools we use in their proper place. We must remember the world’s efforts are meant to undergird not replace the more spiritual methods. Personal friendship evangelism is still the best tool for reaching the world. The best evangelist to reach a person is one who already loves them—one approaching without judgment, simply desiring to spend eternity with them. Personal sacrificial service is still the life which we are to model. Nothing touches the heart more than another human giving of themselves without expecting anything in return. No ad; no website; no social media post can replace this.

As we move forward, let’s remember to rely on God’s tools—without throwing away any worldly tools that can be effective. We must market and brand the church—these are important. However, we must first of all be a praying people. Second we must be people of the Word. Third, we must be a loving reaching people serving the hurting and seeking the lost. Finally, we must live out our testimony so the world sees an accurate image of Christ. When they see us, they must see Christ. It is only if built upon this foundation that the world’s methods will be of any use. Better to lay them aside than to build only upon them. But even better is to use whatever works to reach the lost and love them into the kingdom.

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When Life Hands You Lemons

I heard a funny spin on an old cliché a while back that really made me laugh.  It said, “When life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade.  But, unless life ALSO hands you sugar and water, your lemonade is going to stink.”  I tend to be a notorious over-thinker and this very often translates into pessimism so this quote really resonated with me.  I must have been having a rather hard day because the verse that came up during my quiet time that very same day was 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  It reads, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Does this really mean that God expects us to be happy and thankful when we are going through tremendously difficult times in our lives?  I don’t know about you but I can’t even muster a smile when I have to just put new sheets on my bed.  (That is one of my LEAST favorite chores.  Can I get an amen?)  So, if I can’t even manage that, how am I supposed to learn to be happy or even thankful when life throws lemon grenades at me?

As I started to really delve into this scripture, I began to see what it was actually saying and not what I was just interpreting.  First, I looked up the definition of “joy”.  Yes, there are some dictionaries that likened it to happiness.  But, it is just so much deeper than that.  I finally came across a definition from a biblical dictionary that said that joy is “a state of mind and orientation of the heart; it is a settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope”.  I.love.that.  It isn’t saying that we should be giddy and happy but that we should be hopeful and confident in God.  Feeling a warm fuzzy from that definition, I moved on to the next part of the verse – “pray continually”.  Well, of course.  That one is pretty easy to understand and get on board with.  Next.  “Give thanks in all circumstances.”  Ugh.  So, it isn’t enough for me to just be joyful as I am dealing with hurt and pain but I also have to be thankful for it?  That is just asking too much.  “But, wait.  You read that wrong.” God said.  It doesn’t say to be thankful FOR all circumstances.  It says to be thankful IN all circumstances.  We are to not lose sight of the blessings that we do have in our lives.  Those are the times that we need to be mindful of those the most because sometimes they are the only things that are going to help us just get through the day.  We should also think back on other times in our life where we thought we wouldn’t survive and remind ourselves of how God not only brought us through it but possibly even turned it into a blessing for us or others.

My original interpretation was completely turned on its ear.  Once again, as always, I was looking for what I needed to DO in order for God to step in and help me.  It isn’t about that.  All he asks is that we not become hopeless and lose sight of who he is and what he has done.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

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Private Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is our best known model of prayer. It deals with content, but Jesus taught other things about prayer as well. In Matthew, Chapter Six, he instructs his listeners, “… when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” So we are to pray privately, just between each of us and God, away from other people. This is not to say there should be no corporate or public prayer – there is a time for those – but times of private prayer are a vital part of the Christian life. Luke 5:16 tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” If the Son of God is our example, and he made it a point to pray alone, how much more ought we as well? If we are to focus on God, we must take that time: to praise him, to present our needs to him, to be attuned to his direction in our lives.

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