Friday, August 26, 2011

"Lord, Teach Me To Pray"

“…for we know not what we should pray for as we ought…” (Rom. 8:26)

According to the great apostle, Paul, unless the Holy Spirit guides us, there’s a good chance our prayers will be misguided. Left to ourselves, we are more apt to “ask amiss” than not (James 4:3). He even goes on to say that perhaps the most meaningful prayers are not made up of spoken words at all, but simply “groanings.” I would not be surprised to find when I get to heaven that much of what I thought was prayer, wasn’t; and those times when I felt that people and situations were beyond my control or even my prayers, the sweet Holy Spirit was groaning to God on my behalf.

We are told that our prayers should always be specific, but I’m not sure that’s the way all our prayers should be framed. I am aware that Elijah prayed for fire and got it, and Joshua asked that the sun stand still, and it did; but I am also aware that Paul prayed for relief from a physical torment of some kind, but didn’t receive it, and Jesus asked to be spared from the cup of God’s wrath, but ended up drinking it all. Are we to assume that the first two had more faith than the second? In the case of Paul and Jesus Christ, the will of the Father was acknowledged and accepted (Matt. 26:42; 2 Cor. 12:8-10). Were they wrong to ask? No, and neither are we. But I don’t think our spiritual maturity should be measured by how many direct answers to prayer we can give testimony to. What I do know is that frustration and discontent over (seemingly) unanswered prayers soon turn to questioning and accusation against the goodness of God.

I have always been impressed and encouraged by the story of the Syrophenician woman who petitioned Jesus on behalf of her daughter who was possessed by a devil, as found in Matt. 15: 22-28 and Mark 7:25-30. I am struck by the fact that instead of asking for her daughter’s lifestyle to change, or even that she become a follower of Jesus—both things I know she truly wanted—she got to the root of the problem by asking Jesus to cast out the devil that kept her daughter from being able to exercise her will. She did not ask Him to make the girl do right, only give her the chance to do right. And Jesus answered her prayer.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my children and grandchildren, I find myself giving God fairly specific instructions on how I want my prayers for them to materialize. Of course, in some cases, the need is so plain that the request is obvious. But at other times, I may be zeroing in on my own desire (which could be admirable), while God has something entirely different and better in mind. For that reason, when I find my prayer involves overturning another’s will, I am trying to learn to tread carefully, and not assume personal omniscience.

Here are some things about prayer that I know for sure, because Jesus left His disciples and us a concise model to lay alongside our own (Matt. 6: 9-13). I know God wants me to come to Him as a Father, but with reverence (“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name”). I know I should put God’s will above all else on earth (“They will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”). I know He wants me to come to Him not just in my extremities, but daily (“Give us this day our daily bread”). I should realize that my forgiveness of others is somehow related to God’s forgiveness to me (“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”). I can be sure that I will be tempted to do evil every day, and daily communion with God is my only means of defense (“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”). Finally, I know that with God as my Father, I do not need to fear anyone or anything, now or ever (“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen”).

I readily admit that beyond this example given by our Lord, I am woefully unlearned. I console myself by knowing that God is more interested in whether or not I believe that when I pray I’m talking to Him, and that He answers me. Can He trust me to believe that when it seems (to me) that He has not given me “the desires of my heart,” it may only be because He loves me too much allow my heart to overrule His good and perfect will? I can truthfully say that after all these years, I am finding that as important to me as my petitions to God may be, it is fellowship with Him that woos me into the prayer closet.

O, Lord, teach me to pray!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

God's Furniture Store

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

God intends for our faith to be well furnished. We receive it from Him as a bare-boned but sturdy enough structure, and it’s up to us to add the spiritual furniture and d├ęcor, if you will, to present Him a “holy habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). Or at least as holy as a redeemed sinner can be. Not perfect, simply always in the process of perfecting. And lest we find ourselves questioning about what these new furnishings will look like, the Apostle Peter gives us a handy checklist:

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Pet. 1:5).

Whew! Quite a list, huh? Ah, but not to worry; all these items can be found in one place: God’s Furniture Store—The Bible. God has promised that everything we need with which to furnish our lives with the good works of grace that glorify Him, edify the saints, and give witness to our salvation, is found in the Book to which we often give more lip service than life service. I know this is a drum I beat often and loudly; but get used to it. I’m convinced, if I can do or say something to make you salivate for God’s Word, I will have done you more good than a thousand motivators or sympathizers.

Don’t settle for a faith sparsely furnished with a good work here and a good thought there. Virtue, but meager knowledge; knowledge but little temperance; temperance, but no patience; patience that lacks godliness; godliness that’s unkind to its brother; or brotherly kindness without charity for anyone else. No, God wants us to have it all, not just thoroughly furnished, but “throughly” furnished. Good, through and through. We’ll never be perfect as long as we live in these imperfect bodies, but that shouldn’t keep us from adding to our faith.

Have you been to God’s Furniture Store today? Say, how well furnished is your faith?

Monday, August 15, 2011

God Is Working Out His Purpose

“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” (2 Tim. 1:9)

This verse tells us that God did not save us because He saw great potential within us. He saved us on purpose for a purpose. Frankly, it had more to do with Him than us. We may never know till we get to Heaven (and maybe not then) all of His purpose, but the verse seems to indicate that it was to showcase His grace as seen through the substitutionary death and resurrection of His Son, the Man, Christ Jesus. And we’re the beneficiaries of His grand purpose. Nothing in the life of a child of God is purposeless. It’s all going according to plan.

As you know, I’m an incurable bibliophile, and old books especially intrigue me. In one that I picked up some time ago, I found a poem written in long hand on a piece of old, yellowed paper. I have no idea who may have left it in the book, for there is no signature, nor does it tell who the author of the poem is. The writing is small and spidery; surely the work of an old person. It blessed my heart, so I slipped the piece of paper in my own Bible, thinking I might share it with you one day. Perhaps today its simple, but profound message will encourage some weary, bewildered heart. No title is given.

God is working out His purpose,

Even though we go alone.

It may take us from our loved ones, .

Lead us far away from home,

It will be the greatest pleasure,

Just to feel His presence near.

And to know that God is working

Out the purpose of His will.

God is working out His purpose;

Never murmur or repone,

For our future's in His keeping.

Gladly to His will resign.

When at last the veil is lifted,

And the shadows flee away,

We shall understand His purpose

Through one glad, eternal day.

God is working out His purpose,

Though it lead through desert bare.

He’ll go with us on life’s journey,

And our heavy burdens share.

Through the weary hours of waiting,

When the heart cries, “Lord, how long?”

God is working out His purpose;

Right will triumph over wrong.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Not My Thing"

“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.” (Ps. 122:1)

Church is not my thing.” It might surprise you to know that this statement came from a Christian. Then again, it might not. I was somewhat taken back, however, because, contrary to this individual’s habits, church was our Lord’s “thing” (Luke 4:16), as well as Paul’s (Acts 17:2) and the disciples’ (Acts 20:7).

I am well aware that church attendance is not a prerequisite for justification before God, nor is it a guarantee of an intimate relationship with Him as a Father. But I am also aware that the Church of Jesus Christ, from its inception, has always met together in local bodies to hear the Word of God expounded, encourage one another in holy living, observe the two ordinances given to the Church (The Lord’s Table and Believer’s Baptism), and discover ways of sharing the Gospel around the world. The size or location of the meeting place, or the number of people in attendance, is inconsequential so long as these things are taking place.

Don’t misunderstand; this is not a bone of contention with me. I understand there are times when one is unable to be in the Lord’s house. I experience those times, too. It is a lack of any desire to be there that I find inscrutable—that “solitary conceit,” as C.S. Lewis calls it. Church membership, or even fellowship, does not make one a Christian any more than swimming in water makes one a fish. But there is something about actual fish that makes them at home in the water…something innate. Here’s the thing: wherever my husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, siblings, or those related by marriage are, that’s where I want to be. “Of course,” you say, “They’re family!” Hmmm….

I’m glad church has always been “my thing.” One could do a whole lot worse…and does.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Always or Just Sometimes

“Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.” (2 Pet.1:15)

There are things in the Bible that are “sometimes” things. By that I mean they are not ironclad rules, but temporary commands. For instance, sometimes men were directed by God to do one thing and at another time to do something completely different, for one reason or another. The same man (Paul) who gave so many guidelines for marriage, at one point, recommended remaining single, in light of “the present distress” (1 Cor. 7). Isaiah was commanded to tell King Hezekiah he was going to die, then turn right around and tell him he was going to live (2 Kings 20:1-5). The wise man says in Ecclesiastes three that there is a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck it up; a time to weep and a time to laugh. These, and many others, are not “always” things, but “sometimes” things. It’s important to know the difference.

You probably have a good idea what the word “always” means, but just in case you are inclined to underestimate it, let me tell you how the Oxford English Dictionary defines it: “At every time, on all occasions, at all times; through all time, without any interruption, continually, perpetually; in any and every circumstance, whatever happens, whatever one may do or say, in any event, anyhow.” Get the picture? Now, may I remind us of some of the always things God has said should characterize we who are His children?

We should always:

· pray (Luke 18:1)

· abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor.15:58a)

· triumph in Christ (2Cor.2:14)

· bear in our bodies the death of Christ (2 Cor.4:10)

· be zealous about good things (Gal. 4:18)

· give thanks (Eph. 5:20a)

· have the peace of God (2 Thess.3:16)

· be ready to give an answer for the reason of your hope (1 Pet.3:16)

As I have already pointed out, there definite times when we cannot nor should we try to standardize our lives. The Christian life should be sprinkled with flashes of spontaneity that reflect the moment by moment leading of the Holy Spirit. But these are best seen against the backdrop of a life of steady obedience. Contrary to the old saying, consistency is not the virtue of fools; according to the Bible, our good works should be “track-able.” As Christians, we all fail, but there should be some Biblical attributes in our lives—especially those mentioned in the cited verses—that make those who live and work among us able to say, “Hey, she always….”