Acts: The Praying Church

(Well, I goofed yesterday. I took the day off to spend with my husband for his birthday and forgot it was Monday. I missed the Acts study. I apologize and offer it a day late.)

What do you do when life seems to go completely off the rails? After Jesus’ ascension, the bewildered disciples returned to Jerusalem. And there they set the character of the church. The first congregation was a “praying church” as the disciples and followers of Jesus met together after His ascension (vs. 12-13). Verse 14 says that “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” Now, this doesn’t mean that they all sat in the same room for a prayer meeting. The phrase “constantly in prayer” means “to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing.”

I attended a church where the deacons (which my husband was) and wives (that was me) went to mandatory prayer meetings every Sunday night.  We often sat behind one couple who played games on their phones the whole time. Another woman sat at the end of our row thumbing through a magazine while her husband reverently bowed his head and slept. The same handful of people prayed out loud every week, waxing elephants with their piety. I never felt less spiritual in all my life.

Luke says that all these people were together in one place with one mind and one heart, praying with one purpose – the coming of the Holy Spirit. They believed that Jesus would fulfill His promise (1:4-8) and so they waited in faith and prayer.  By the way – the fact that women were present is shocking for the day as the Jewish traditions kept men and women apart for any religious activity. The fact that his brothers were there is also incredible.  These were the same brothers who scoffed at Jesus and denied His claim to be the Son of God. Now they were crowded together, putting their lives on the line for a truth they had long eschewed. I posed a question at the beginning of this devotional: “What do you do when life goes off the rails? Jesus’ followers turned to prayer and faith while they waited for Him to do what He promised. There have been more than a few times I felt like everything had fallen apart in my life. I’m learning to follow their example. Beloved when everything goes wrong you can too. Pray in faith and wait.

When Joy Prays

Photo by Joy’s mommy, Ashley Andrews

God has taught me so much in a thousand different ways. Certainly, His Word is my highest and best teacher. But I’ve also learned some valuable life and spiritual lessons through my cat, an overflowing coffee pot, a nasty garbage can, a wrecked car, an old barn, my kid, and a buzzard in the road. Yesterday my granddaughter became my teacher, which is not unusual. God sends so many lessons through that little girl, probably because He knows she gets right to my heart.

It was supper time and she was doing everything but coming to the table.  We were all getting frustrated with her and it was turning into a battle of the wills. Finally, an unhappy Joy climbed into her seat with her bottom lip protruding as we extended hands to pray the blessing. In our house, Poppy prays first and she will follow with her own version. She’s done this since before she had words. You really should listen to a little kid’s prayer sometime – it will bless your heart so much. I love to hear her pray and I am sure God does too. But when she’s upset she will decline to pray. Except last night.

Poppy finished his part and Joy’s mommy asked her if she was going to pray. Big little-girl sigh. “I don’t want to pray because I’m aggravate (her exact word), but I can pray.” Out of the mouths of babes . . . When do I feel less like praying? When I’m aggravate. When I’m frustrated. When I’m angry. When do I most need to pray? When I’m aggravate. When I’m frustrated. When I’m angry.

She was a real-life example of Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica: “Be Joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:16-18). By the time she rambled her way to “Amen” the tone at the table had softened dramatically.

Here’s what I learned from my pint-sized teacher: if I only pray when I’m in the mood to pray, I will rarely pray. You know it’s true for you too. Look at Jesus. He prayed in the hardest moment of His life just before He went to the cross. His prayer was honest and God didn’t chastise Him for His raw feelings.

So pray Beloved – no matter how you feel. Good or bad. Happy or sad. It’s always a good time to pray. Even when you’re aggrevate. Especially when you’re aggrevate.

Child of the King

The Queen knew that her people were in danger and only the king – her husband – could undo the evil plan against them. But no one dared to approach the throne without a summons. Not even Esther. If she did, and it displeased him, she would be put to death. It was a risky proposition, but it was necessary. She prepared herself and put on her royal robes and when the king saw her standing in the court, he welcomed her. Esther’s bravery (and her God) saved the lives of all the Jews in Persia.

I’ve often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest. I see myself dressed, not in royal robes, but in the torn, tattered rags of my sinfulness. I come with a heavy burden and a desperate need that is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to Hebrews 4:16, that is exactly what I am invited to do. The author said, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16). With these shakey knees? Yes. Because the confidence I have to come before God isn’t something inside of me, but it is because I am accepted in the blood of Jesus. While I see myself clothed in dirty rags, God sees me clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I see the mud of the world clinging to my hands, but God sees the “clean hands and pure heart” (Ps 24:4) of one who has been redeemed by His Son and cleansed from sin. I may see myself as a stumbling, sinful woman, but He sees me as His beloved child. Imagine that. I am a child of the King of the universe. Timothy Keller said: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

What do you need today? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended? Beloved, lift up your head and step into your Father’s presence. He will not only receive you but He will throw open His arms wide to you. That’s His promise. That’s your confidence. That’s your place as a child of God.

Talk to God

“God, I know you must be tired of hearing me. I come to you with the same stuff, over and over and over.” I felt like a broken record. A very broken, weary, discouraged record. It’s been the same struggles for so long now. “Not so, Child,” I heard in my spirit.

I sat down with my coffee and my Bible (a wonderful combination) and was led to Psalm 55. “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me,” (v. 1) David said. Wow! I could have written those words myself. It truly felt like God was tuning me out. But I couldn’t blame Him. I read on, “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught” (v. 2). Same here, Brother. “My heart is in anguish within me” (v. 4). “I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—’” (v. 6). Lord, are you sure I didn’t write this? David and I are in complete synch here.

David was overwhelmed with the wickedness around him. But more than anything his heart was broken because the people closest to him had turned against him. That might feel familiar to you. David felt like he had no one he could turn to, no one he could trust. No one cared about his troubles. Well, almost no one.

“But I call to God and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning, and noon I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice” (v. 16-17). Did you see it? Evening, morning, and noon. All day long David pours out his heart to God. And God doesn’t get tired of him. He listens – more than that – He hears. The word David used means God gave heed in order to grant David’s request.

Listen to the advice he gives. It may be familiar, but now that you know the context, it should mean even more to you. “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you” (v. 22). All of them. As many times as it takes to lay them at His feet and leave them there. And He will sustain you. He will hold you up and bear the weight – not just of your burden, but of you. Beloved, you are not an encumbrance to the Lord. He will never tire of hearing your voice. It is a sweet, sweet sound in His ears.

Hebrews: Pray for Me

Pray for me. Yes, that is a request, but I’m also quoting the author of Hebrews as he nears the end of his letter. He asked his readers: “Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” (Heb 13:18). Scholars believe that the unknown writer may have been falsely accused of something that cast a shadow on his integrity and testimony. He wanted his readers to know without a doubt that he had “a clear conscience” and a heart to live for Christ. He had been separated in some way from his beloved friends and hoped to return to them. It was a matter he wanted to be covered in prayer.

Paul’s letters are filled with pleas for prayer for himself – and his prayers for others.  If you need some suggestions for how to pray for others, you would do well to search out his writings. Here are a few that I like to use:

I pray that in Him you will be enriched in every way and not lack any spiritual gift. I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will keep you strong and blameless to the end (adapted from 1 Cor 1:4-9).

“I pray that God will fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, so that you may have great endurance, patience, Joy and gratitude” (Col 1:9-12).

And my favorite: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).

The Bible is filled with good words that can be turned into good prayers. Many of the Psalms are the prayers of David and the Levites. God declared, “My word that goes out of my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). Praying His Word back to Him has His divine power and authority behind it.

So pray for somebody today, Beloved. If you don’t know their specific needs, pray one of these Scriptures over them. Who knows what God may do in someone’s life through your prayers?

If You Only Knew . . .

Ever wish you had a crystal ball to see what’s ahead? Maybe with some advance notice, I could have avoided some of the disasters that hit my life. I know I would have made a lot of different decisions had I been able to see their outcome. I would have taken a different route home and saved myself from a car accident. I would not have taken a job that I grew to dislike. I would have put more time and effort into education and less into frivolous, fruitless distractions. I would have steered clear of certain relationships that broke my heart. I would have taken better care of my physical – and fiscal – health. Yes – things would be different if I’d only had eyes to see the future.

Luke 22 recalls Jesus’ final events with His disciples – the Passover Meal that became “the Last Supper,” His prayer on the Mount of Olives, and His arrest. Luke added a conversation Jesus had with one disciple in particular, Simon Peter. Jesus knew about the events that would unfold that night – including Peter’s coming denial of His friend and teacher. Jesus told him, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (v. 31-32).  He knew what Peter would face. He knew that Peter would stumble. And He held His disciple up to the Father and asked for divine help. Notice that He didn’t pray that Peter would avoid the trial, but he prayed for Peter’s faith. That makes all the more sense when we read Peter’s words years later: “your faith [is] of greater worth than gold.”  He knew that all too well for his faith had been “refined by fire” (1 Pet 1:7) and it had come out strong and pure. Because Jesus had prayed for him.

You and I don’t know what the future holds – we don’t even know what will happen today. But Jesus does.  And He has already prayed for you Beloved – not so much that you can avoid the trials of the day but “that your faith may not fail,” and the Father always honors the prayers of His Son. What an amazing way to start your day, knowing that Jesus has been praying for you!

Wrestling

I know you think I write these devotionals every day for you. You are only partially correct. Some days I write for me and bring you along for the ride.   Writing is how I think and pray and wrestle things out. Today is one of those days. I shared with you earlier that my “word” for the year is “gentle.”  I believe that God is imprinting that word on my heart because I’m in a situation where gentleness is needed for the best outcome.

Gentleness seems so easy, the word even sounds simple as it rolls off my tongue. But it isn’t. Especially when I am tired. And I am tired. Inside and out. When I’m tired the “natural me” comes out. She is petulant and irritable. She wants her way. She grumbles. A lot. She is everything but gentle. And she is awake this morning.

The Lord reminded me of my word through His Word. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2). Yes Lord, I hear You. Every one of those descriptions is counter to my natural self. I cannot produce them on my own. But they are the very character of Christ whom I claim to follow. One word, in particular, caught my attention: “completely.” That word means “all, each, every.” In every situation, with every person, at all times be humble and gentle and patient and forbearing and loving. Even when I’m tired. Even with people who are unfair and uncooperative. Even when I don’t want to be. Especially when I don’t want to be.

I told you, I’m wrestling this out this morning and so I asked God, “How?” “How do I do this when I’m tired and people are making life hard?” Do you know what He didn’t say? He didn’t say, “I’ll make them more agreeable.” He didn’t say, “I’ll change your situation.” He didn’t say, “I’ll make this easier for you.” The Spirit literally took my eyes across the page of my open Bible to another verse: “For this reason, I kneel before the Father . . .” (3:14). He said, “Humble yourself before  me and ask for my help.” So I will as soon as I sign off. From one wrestler to another, maybe you need to as well Beloved.

Praying for My Prodigal

I found a word today in the Old Testament story of Elijah vs. the priests of Baal that spoke such comfort to me. If you are so inclined, read 1 Kings 18:16-40. The people thought they could worship both pagan gods and the God of heaven and earth. Elijah called Israel to return to exclusive worship of God. When the Lord God is in the house – or the heart – there is no room for another god. Elijah said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (v. 21).

Elijah proposed a showdown between good and evil – between the Lord God and Baal the pagan god of the people. Each would be given a bull to be sacrificed by fire, but the fire had to be produced by the deity. The priests of Baal prepared their bull and called on Baal from morning till evening. They danced and shouted and slashed themselves in hopes of rousing their god to action. “But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (v. 29). Because there was no one there.

Then Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord, dug a trench around it, prepared the bull for sacrifice, and commanded the people to drench the bull and the wood until both were saturated and water filled the trench. Then Elijah called on the Lord, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant . . . [and] that You O Lord, are God” (v. 36-37). And of course, God answered in a mighty way burning up the bull and the wood and drying up the water in the trench. There was no question anymore as to who was the one true God.

Here’s what jumped out at me. When Elijah called on the Lord he prayed that God would “turn their hearts back again” (v. 37). And He did. And that is the prayer of this Mama’s heart. I have a wandering prodigal. I know many of you do as well. The thing is he was raised in a godly home and in church and he even goes to church with his family on Sunday, but he is drawn to things that are not of God Monday – Saturday. I have prayed and pleaded with God for many years with many tears. But now, this is my simple prayer: “Lord, turn his heart back to You.” And I believe He will. Heavy-hearted Moms and Dads, Grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends; keep praying. Keep believing. Keep hoping. God is still in the business of turning hearts around. Watch for miracles up ahead.

Jesus is Praying for You

Perhaps the sweetest words in all the world (after, “I love you, Nana”) are “I’m praying for you.” Oh, what a blessing are the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ. James said, “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman, boy or girl] is powerful and effective” (Jas 5:16). I am blessed with dear friends and family members who are prayer warriors.

But what strength and peace would be yours if you knew that Jesus was praying for you? That is what He promised Peter just before the enemy put the disciple through a sifter. Jesus said, “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). Peter was about to endure perhaps the fiercest trial of his life; Jesus wanted him to know that he would not face it alone. I believe that we can take reassurance in knowing that Jesus does the same for us.

Pay attention to two things here. Jesus prayed before Peter’s trial – He knew what was ahead for his friend. Rarely do you and I know what is about to come into someone’s life – our prayers are most often reactionary. But Jesus knows ahead of time and His prayers are covering us before the trouble ever reaches us.  Also, notice what He prayed for—that Peter’s faith would not fail. Because the most important thing in this life is faith. And Peter learned the value of faith through his trial. In 1 Peter 1 he writes: “Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may prove genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (v. 6-7).

As a side note, did you notice that Jesus said, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32). When. Not if. Jesus knew Peter would turn back – because He was praying for him.

Jesus is praying for you in your hard time. He is praying that your faith would not fail. He is praying that you will be a source of strength for others when you get to the other side. And you will get to the other side, Beloved. Because Jesus is praying for you.

Look How Much You’ve Grown!

Joy has grown so much this last year. It’s obvious when you look at her. She’s taller and stronger. Her legs and arms are longer. Even her hair is longer. Her vocabulary is incredible, she doesn’t use baby talk and she annunciates her words very well. She can do more things for herself like spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. And she’s learning how to calm herself when she gets upset. (I hope she will teach me.) Potty training is still a work in progress, but I know she will get that too. One thing hasn’t changed – that mega-watt smile can still melt Nana’s heart. She’s a growing, beautiful, amazing little girl.

Which makes me wonder, how do we know that we’re growing spiritually? We don’t get taller, but we should see signs that mark spiritual maturity. Like Joy, our speech is a clear indication of growth. Jesus said it’s in our words. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matt 12:35). We talk about God and the things of God. We reject profanity and gossip and complaining (Eph 4:29; Phil 2:14).

It’s also seen in what we desire. Growing in God means we want the things that He wants and we are repulsed by the things that offend Him (Ps 40:8; Col 3:5). We look and act more like Jesus, which is God’s goal all along – “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom 8:29). We are compassionate (2 Cor 1:3-4), kind and gentle (2 Tim 2:24-25), loving (1 Cor 13), self-controlled (1 Pet 1:13), and “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (Jas 1:19).

Perhaps the most visible sign of spiritual maturity is how we deal with sin in our lives. As spiritual babes, we sin and the Spirit convicts us of our sin. We confess, repent, and receive forgiveness. But we go back to it again. And we repeat the cycle, sometimes multiple times. The true evidence of spiritual growth is when we stop going back to our sin. When the Spirit helps us recognize the pattern and break the cycle, we’ve made a major step in spiritual maturity.

I look at myself and see some signs of growth as well as places where I’m still a toddler in Christ. You too? Growth comes when we take in the things that nurture our spirit, like God’s Word, fellowship with other believers, prayer, and resting in the Lord. And trust. Paul said, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Phil 1:6). God’s not going to give up on you, Beloved. Don’t give up on yourself.