Pray Like Jesus

Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  James counseled, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).  And our Lord told us to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  He assured us: “For everyone who asks received; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). We have God’s approval to “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16).  And nothing is off-limits – we are encouraged to pray about everything.

So what happens when we pray and the situation goes the other way?  The fact is, prayers don’t always get answered the way we hope.  What do we do with that?

We go to the garden with Jesus.  Just before his betrayal and death, Jesus prayed with deep earnestness for this cup of suffering to pass from Him.  He knew His Father had the power to take it away.  He said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for You.”  Everything – curing cancer, healing broken bodies, taking away suffering.  But he came to the one prayer that God will always answer: “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  This has become my prayer too.  It is not a prayer of resignation – it is a prayer of trust and of confidence that God’s will, whether it agrees with my desire or not, is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Sometimes we pray and God miraculously answers.  But sometimes we pray, and God says, “No.” which, by the way, is still an answer.  I don’t know why some prayers are fulfilled and some are not.  What I do know beyond any shadow of a doubt is that I will continue to bring every petition to God, I will ask, and seek, and knock, and then I will put it all in His hands and surrender it to His will.  And I will trust that He is good.  Beloved, I encourage you to make Jesus’ prayer the prayer of your heart – may the Father’s will be done.

How to Calm a Restless Life

I almost did it. I almost gave you a devotional with a verse taken out of context. I’ve taught the importance of context, context, context for years and I was about to break the rule. Let me explain. James 1:6 says, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” This verse, plucked out of the surrounding passage, sits nicely on a platter of “pray and believe and you will receive.” But wait. What is that “but” all about?

James was writing to encourage Jewish believers who were under great oppression and persecution for their faith in Christ. He said their trials were God’s tools to make them “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (v. 4). Then he adds, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (v. 5). Put all the pieces together and James is saying that wisdom is the mark of a mature, complete Christian and that God will give wisdom to anyone who asks.

But there’s the “but” and that’s where verse 6 above comes in. By now you know that believing = obedience. The wisdom God gives is not just a head full of theology, it is practical action He expects you to take. God doesn’t speak just to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed. The opposite of believing is doubt, so the corollary to our equation is doubt = disobedience. “Doubt” means to make a judgment and thus to hesitate. When we doubt God’s Word, when we hesitate to obey we are judging His wisdom – or more to the point, judging Him – and deciding to reject His Word – and His authority. Hesitance is disobedience.

James calls that being “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8 ). A double-minded mind is a divided mind – a mind with two opposite opinions. A double-minded heart is a divided heart – a heart with two opposite affections. Being unstable means being inconsistent – acting first one way and then another. It’s a restless life. It’s no wonder the person who doubts God’s wisdom is “blown and tossed by the wind like a wave of the sea.” 

Beloved, if you’ve been tossed around by life lately, maybe it’s time to take God’s Word – all of God’s Word – to heart. Obedience is a sturdy foundation.

The God Who Loves to Give

“Please sir, I want some more.” Oliver Twist

In Dickins’ classic tale, Oliver warily approaches the master and makes his plea, and we see the cruel irony of a hungry orphan being rebuffed by the well-fed headmaster. Yet how often do we approach God with the same trepidation as Oliver Twist?  As if He is a harsh master who will refuse us even the humblest request?  Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible reveals God as a generous Father who loves to give good things to His children.

2 Peter 1:3 says He “has given us everything we need for life and godliness.”  Like our daily bread (Matthew 5:11), clothes on our back (Matthew 6:30), and “all these things” that are necessary for life (Matthew 6:33).  I’ve been the recipient of His practical generosity and kindness many, many times. 

Even more than our physical needs, Peter said our Father will give us everything we need for a godly life: chiefly His Word (John 17:8) and His Spirit (John 14:16).   God provides with a generous heart and an open hand.

I love John’s affirmation in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: That if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”  The writer of Hebrews echoes the same thought: “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  That is an invitation we should jump at!

You do not have to come to your Heavenly Father with a sense of apprehension as if you are asking for more than God is willing to bestow.  He has so much he desires to give you—till your cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).  Don’t come crawling to Him with a little teacup in your hand. Come running to your Father with the biggest bucket you can find, and He will fill it till it spills over and you can’t contain it all.  He is a God who loves to give!

Don’t Give Up on God

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I hope you’re not tired of hearing about my cat. Celina is a black-and-white Bible teacher with a tail. Every morning I stumble into the kitchen headed for the coffee maker. Celina runs ahead of me and parks herself in front of her food dish and begins her usual cries of lament. “Feed me. Feed me.  Feed me.” Never mind that the bowl still has food in it. As I’ve shared before, she demands a fresh scoop to start the day. This morning I was a little distracted and slower to respond than usual.  She continued to meow – but each one got softer and quieter. It was like she was slowly giving up – losing hope that I would take care of her.

Some of you, like me, have a prayer you have carried for a long time. And nothing is happening. God is silent. You are starting to losing hope that He cares and will answer you. You are slowly giving up. Don’t.

Jesus told two parables reminding us to be persistent in prayer. In Luke 18:1-8 He tells us about a persistent widow who kept coming to a judge seeking justice against her adversary. Luke introduces the story with this comment: “Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up” (v. 1). Luke 11: 5-10 is the parable of the man who goes to his friend at midnight asking for bread. The friend is reluctant at first, but “because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (v. 8) The word “boldness” means shameless, barefaced persistence. Jesus completes this parable with the reminder to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (v. 9). The original Greek used here literally reads: ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking. The key to these two parables is that the pray-er was persistent because they knew that the one hearing their prayers would come through.

You and I can be persistent in prayer because we have faith in the one who hears our prayers. Don’t give up on God, Beloved. ASK – Ask, seek, knock – again.

Peace Rules

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We live in a world filled with turmoil. If you need proof, just look to Washington D.C. There is unrest and violence in our nation and even our homes are rocked by discord and anger. Our hearts are filled with anxiety, hate, and fear. Yet, peace is possible in my heart and yours – and it might just cause a ripple of peace in our homes, workplaces, schools, communities, and nation.

Colossians 3:15 tells us to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The original terminology for “rules” means, to decide, to make the call – you could say we must “let the peace of Christ be the umpire.” My husband used to umpire for Little League baseball, and it was up to him to decide if a pitch was a ball or strike, a hit was fair or foul, or if a player was out or safe. Whatever he decided stood. Coaches argued his calls at times, but his decision was the final word. When the peace of Christ rules in our hearts, we take His determination, through His Word and His Spirit, as the final word on our situation.

He said “Do not worry . . . your Father knows what you need” (Matthew 6:25-34), so we rest our anxious hearts and trust in His faithfulness. He said, “Rejoice and be glad” when you face persecution Matthew 5:11-12), so we receive the suffering of Christ with Joy. He said “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:39), and your enemy (Matthew 5:44), so we let the love of God love through us (1 John 4:19). He said “Ask, seek, knock,” and then trust Him to give (Matthew 7:7-11) and so we present our petitions and wait for His answer.  He said, “turn the other cheek, give more than is asked of you, and go the extra mile” (Matt. 5: 38-42), and so we set aside our “rights” and take up the humble nature of a servant (Phil 2:6-8). He said, “I will love you with an everlasting love” (Psalm 103:17), and so we take Him at His Word.

When the peace of Christ rules and reigns in your heart and mine, there is peace on the inside and peace on the outside that affects our homes, our nations, and our world. Beloved, will you let the peace of Christ be the rule in your heart?

Fill Me Up Lord!

“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.  I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods, with singing lips my mouth will praise You.”   Psalm 63:3-5

I had a conversation recently with my chiropractor, about trying to get off the couch and get moving.  I argued with him, “But I have no energy!”  He told me that when we only use a small amount of energy every day, our body gets accustomed to that and eventually doesn’t demand any more of us.  That is how a “couch potato” is created.  But if we push past that bar we have set, our body will begin to respond to the demand for additional energy and will build a greater energy reserve.  We have to be determined to break the low-energy barrier.

I said, “You know, there is a spiritual application here.” I rolled that thought around in my mind, and this is what God showed me:  If we allow ourselves to become satisfied with just a little bit of God, we will never want more of Him.  But if we push past that bar we have set, our hearts will begin to respond to Him more and more, and we will find that we can never get enough of Him.  We will be filled with His love, and His Spirit will give us new life.

How do we push past that low-level desire?  God has shown us the way in Jeremiah 29:13 – “You will seek me and find me when You seek me with all your heart.”  The terminology that is used to “seek” God speaks of an intense desire to know Him, and a passionate and determined pursuit of Him.  The wonderful truth is that God promises to reveal Himself to us when we do.  In fact, the original Hebrew says that He will cause us to encounter Him – if we seek Him with all our hearts.  As He reveals more of Himself to us, our love for Him deepens, and our search for the heart of God intensifies more and more.

Jesus tells us “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Listen to His promise: “For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)  We often claim this verse for the needs and pursuits of our lives, but I believe this promise has a greater purpose: If we pursue God with this kind of faith and determination, what we ask-more of Him-will be given to us.  You can be assured that if you seek Him, you will find Him.  You have His word on it.

Are you “satisfied” with your relationship with God, or do you long for more?  Turn off the T.V., push yourself up from the couch, and begin to pursue Him.  Get involved in a local church, with faithful attendance.  Join a Sunday school class or Bible study group.  Find a Christian mentor you can learn from.  Establish a daily habit of reading your Bible and praying.   When you make knowing God a priority in your life, He will show you truths you never dreamed of.  Jeremiah 33:3 says “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”  This is God’s invitation to know Him, and His promise to reveal things you never even thought to ask about.  This is your invitation to go deeper with God.  Will you seek Him?

 You have said to my heart, “Seek my face!” Your face Lord, I will seek. (Psalm 27:8)