A Prayer For Nepal

 

Would you pray with me…

 

Heavenly Father, Sovereign God, Creator and Sustainer of all that is. You reign over all the earth. You sit on your holy throne.

Yet you are near to the brokenhearted. You save the crushed in spirit. You weep with those who weep, you mourn with those who mourn. There is not a petal that falls from a flower that you do not know about. There is not a tear that falls 1280px-Wind_erosion_Kalopani_Nepalfrom a child that you do not see. There is not a cry for help that you do not hear.

You do not run from the pain of this broken and chaotic world. You will not abandon your image-bearers in their time of need. You are the God who enters into our pain. You are the God who comforts those in devastation. You are the God who provides hope to the hopeless. You are the God who can make all things new.

Oh God our Father, we pray for the people of Nepal. We pray that you would send your Spirit to comfort all those who are mourning. We pray that you would send your Spirit to bring peace and order to this terrifying and chaotic situation. We pray that you would shine your light of life where there is now much darkness. Guide and care for the people. Pour out your grace and blessing upon each and every person. Reveal yourself in this time.

Father, move our hearts to know how to pray, to know how to act, to know how to respond. Continue to raise up from your people caretakers, aid workers, and those with means and resources to help. Give wisdom and discernment to those who are already helping. Guide their plans and their steps that they might be able to better provide the greatest amount of relief and help to the greatest number of people in the shortest amount time.

Sustain those who are sacrificing themselves for others. Give to those who are going without so that others might live. Oh God, make yourself known in this situation.

Show us how to enter into the pain of others as you have entered into our pain. Give us eyes to see what you see. Give us ears to hear what you hear. Give us hearts to feel what you feel. Give us hands to care as you care. Give us feet to go as you go.

Abba Father, help us to remember that it is only by your grace that we are alive today. We have done nothing to earn it, nothing to deserve it. Help us to remember that our lives are no more valuable than any other. We are alive on earth only because it is to your good pleasure and plan that our lives continue for another day.

Show us what to do with the days that you have given us. Lead us in the way that we should go.

We put all our hope in you–the only wise God.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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One Thing That Keeps Us from Sharing The Gospel And How To Overcome It

 

What keeps us from sharing the Gospel with others?

Until recently I would have given one of three answers:

  1. Christians don’t know enough about the Gospel
  2. Christians have few (if any) non-Christian friends
  3. Christians have become too busy with their own livesV&A_-_Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515)

Maybe you would agree. Maybe you feel like you don’t know enough. Or maybe you feel like you no longer have any non-Christian friends. And it’s probably likely that you’re busy–crazy busy even–and you just don’t have time to even make time to share the Gospel with others.

I get it. At different times in my life, I’ve been there. And I’ve thought all the same things.

But Pastors David Platt and Francis Chan wouldn’t agree. As they see it, we don’t share the Gospel because we lack something. And that something isn’t knowledge, non-Christian friends, or more time for our neighbors.

What we lack is just one thing–boldness.

We simply lack the courage to do it.

After recently reading through the book of Acts and preaching on parts of it a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t agree more. The early church didn’t know everything there was to know about the Gospel. They didn’t have a ton of non-Christian friends. And they had jobs, families, and other things to do. But when it came to sharing the Gospel, they were bold.  

So how do we get boldness?

This is where we (and by “we” I mean “I”) tend to make the mistake. We tend to try to motivate ourselves (and others) to go share. We might try to motivate ourselves just to love others, or even just to see people as Jesus sees them.

It might work for a short time. But more times than not, the motivation quickly fades. We stop looking for opportunities. And soon we feel guilty again for not sharing our faith.

So what is the alternative?

The alternative is to stop looking for boldness within ourselves. Because it doesn’t exist in us, and we can’t generate it. The kind of boldness that enables us to share the Gospel only comes from God.

Thus, if we want to be bold we must pray. We must ask the Holy Spirit to give us what we cannot give ourselves. This is what the church in Acts understood.  The answer isn’t to try harder. The answer is to pray more. We must first pray for our own boldness, and then pray for each other’s boldness. Only when we start with prayer will we not only see the opportunities to share the Gospel, but we’ll have the God-given courage to actually do it.

 

If you still have a few minutes, check out this great conversation between David Platt and Francis Chan on Prayer, the Holy Spirit and Boldness. You won’t regret it.

 

Five Books That Helped Me Learn How to Pray

 

In high school I heard somewhere that James the brother of Jesus had knees like a camel. Supposedly he prayed so much on his knees that they became extremely calloused to the point they resembled camel knees.

For some reason I thought this sounded like something to aspire to. So for a time in high school I prayed on my knees. Most of the time wearing shorts (because growing up in California you can do that sort of thing), in hopes that I too might have camel knees.

I had issues in high school.

Now praying just so your knees become calloused like a camel isn’t the best reason to pray. But by God’s grace something in me did begin to change. It wasn’t my knees. But it was a growing desire to be able to communicate with God.

I had a lot of learning to do.

My formative learning on prayer would come through the following five books. There are lots of other great books on prayer, these are just the ones God used in my life to lay a foundational understanding of prayer and how to go about praying.

1. Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home

This book opened my eyes to a banquet of prayer options. Not only did it give me a far greater understanding of prayer, it also changed a lot of my thinking on how to pray.

2. Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Voice of God

Should I expect to hear from God? Jack Deere emphatically says yes. This was the first book I read (by a Bible scholar) that laid out a convincing biblical argument that God still speaks to us today.

3. Dallas Willard’s Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God

Much like Jack Deere’s book, Dallas Willard lays out the case that God still speaks. But then he focuses on how to hear God’s voice and what it means to live a life in two-way conversation with God. It was a very helpful book to read after Deere’s “Surprised by the Voice of God.”

4. John Eldredge’s Walking with God: Talk to Him. Hear from Him. Really.

This book is not so much a book about prayer as it is as an example of a life of prayer. Reading this book felt like I was spending a year with Eldredge just observing what it looks like to be in continual conversation with God.

5. Ben Patterson’s God’s Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms

Ben Patterson convinced me that the best teacher of how to pray is the Scriptures, specifically the Psalms. Learning from Patterson how to pray through the Psalms not only changed my understanding of the Psalms but also radically changed how I pray and what I pray for.

I still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to prayer, but these books have certainly helped. I can honestly say that learning to pray has been one the best things I have done as a follower of Jesus. So I hope these books will help you too  learn how to pray.

 

Other helpful books on prayer:

Jim Mindling’s Learn to Breathe: The Surprising Path to a Transformed Life

Paul E Miller’s A Praying Life: Connecting With God In A Distracting World

Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
(I haven’t read this one yet, but I have no doubt it will be good)

The best parenting advice I’ve ever received

Early in our marriage there was a time when my wife, Meredith, and I seriously contemplated not having kids. I chose to verbalize this contemplation one evening while we were attending a Christian couples retreat.

We were sitting in a circle with other young couples. Everyone was sharing about marriage, family, and kids. Some couples shared their hopes for future children, other couples shared how great it was to have kids.

I sat there with my knee nervously bouncing, completely unable to relate.  For me, the thought of having children seemed overwhelming and not great.

So I raised my hand, waited for our group leader to call on me, and then I asked a question I knew was heretical in some Christian circles…

“Why should we have kids?”

Dead silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Finally, one husband (a future pastor) piped up, “Because, we are commanded to.”

I knew he was referring to Genesis 1:28 where God commands Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

Touche,” I thought.

So I followed up with my real concern.

“Ok, but isn’t it inevitable that you’re going to cause your kids pain? Isn’t there going to come a time when they no longer like you or may even hate you? How can you willingly bring a child into the world knowing that you’re just going to screw them up?!”

Again, dead silence.

This time the silence was broken by the leader of our group, a seasoned wife and mother whose children were adults (and still walking with Jesus). She calmly replied,

“Yes, that is all very possible…”

She then shared with us some of her own parenting mistakes. She recounted the many times she and her husband “lost it” with their kids. The many times their kids “disowned” them. And the many times she and her husband did not do the right thing in the right situation.

I thought, “Yes, this is what I am talking about!”

But then she gave us the best piece of parenting advice that I have ever heard.

“Pray for your kids,” she said.

The advice was so simple, I couldn’t help but think, I could do that.

She explained, “That’s one thing we’ve done right is we pray for our kids. Every night after our kids went to bed we prayed for them. When they were still little I would go in their room and put my hand on their warm little backs and pray that God would heal them from any hurt that I have caused them. That he would remove any evil that had come into their life that day. And that he would protect them from the consequences of my sins.”

She assured us her kids weren’t perfect and their family still had hard times.

But she said, “Jesus answered those prayers. Jesus was bigger than my mistakes, and today we have good relationships with our kids.”

In that moment I had a strange sensation of  hope.

As I write this we now have three kids and another on the way. Meredith and I are far from perfect parents. And our kids are far from perfect kids. But we have made it a priority to pray for our kids, every night at bedtime, sometimes in the morning and at times through out the day. I don’t do it because I’m a super spiritual pastor. I do it because I recoginize I am a very imperfect parent with imperfect kids in need of a very perfect God.

And I pray for my kids because in the decade plus years since that couples retreat, I have talked to many other parents. And I’ve met a number of parents whose kids I wish I could duplicate. Parents who have excellent relationships with their kids (even as adults). They all have one thing in common. They all spent time–lots of time–praying for their kids.

And so I pray for my kids.

It’s the best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever received.

Prayer Requests

As many of you know, this week I’m serving on a mission trip with 31 other awesome people from Fellowship EPC. We’ll be up in Sault Ste Marie (pronounced Soo-Saint-Marie) MI, doing a variety of tasks.

Our group will be repairing homes, serving the elderly, facilitating a children’s ministry, and working on a farm that uses animals and nature to reach out to and educate local children. It should be a great week!

But I’m very aware that when it comes to mission trips, even short ones, great weeks don’t just happen. God shows up when his people call on him and depend on him. And that happens when people pray.

We’ve been praying for this trip for months now, and there are many great people who will continue to pray for us this week. But I would be very grateful if you’d join them and pray for us as well.

What can you be praying for? (I’m glad you asked)

Pray that:

  • God would be glorified and Jesus would be made known by EVERY aspect of our trip.
  • Each of us, as well as those with whom we work and share, would have a powerful encounter with God.
  • The unconditional love of God would radiate in and through each of our lives.
  • God would put a hedge of protection around the entire trip.
  • Satan would be bound from anything that would hinder anyone coming to know and grow with Jesus this week.
  • All participating on this trip would be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • God’s Word would be proclaimed with power and produce life change.
  • God would give us strength and good health throughout the trip.
  • God would protect and provide for family members back home.
  • Divine appointments, both with those with whom we share as well as others we might encounter throughout the week.

If you would pray for any one of those things, I know it would make a big difference on our trip. I don’t always know exactly how prayer works, I just know the more people pray, the more God moves. And this week we really want to see God move, both in our lives and in the lives of those we serve.

Thanks in advance for you support!

 

 

A Better Way To Pray…

Last Sunday at Fellowship I led the congregation in a Scripture reading and prayer. The text was Deut. 30:11-20. A key verse in the text was Deut. 30:16:

For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

Often the temptation is to respond to such a text by praying something like this:

Heavenly Father, help us to keep your commands so that we might live and receive your blessing…

We’re tempted to pray this way because we want God to bless us. We want God’s favor upon us.

The problem is that this kind of prayer is, in some way, unnecessary.

Here’s why….

You and I will never (this side of heaven) be able to walk in perfect obedience to God. We will never be able to perfectly keep all of God’s commands. We will never be good enough to receive God’s blessing.

God actually knows this.

So why then does God give us commands?

God’s commands exist for two reasons. First, they exist as a reflection of the character of God. God’s commands show us just how holy God is. Second, God’s commands show us just how unholy we are.

In other words, the commands of God show us we need help. They show us we need a savior.

Jesus Christ is that Savior.

When Jesus lived on earth he did what we could not do. He walked in perfect obedience to God the Father. He fulfilled every command of God. He showed us what a perfect life actually looks like.

But Jesus did more than just show us how to live. Jesus lived a righteous [right relationship to God] life for a bigger reason.  He desired to give his righteousness away…

In Romans 3:21-24 the Apostle Paul writes:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Paul’s point is this: because none of us can keep the commandments of God perfectly, none of us on our own can be righteous [in right relationship to God]. Therefore we need another way of being righteous. A way that is outside of the law of  God. Jesus is that other way.

Furthermore, when we put our faith [trust] in Jesus Christ, we are justified [judged innocent] by God. And redeemed [put back in right relationship] by God.

This is called “The Great Exchange”. When we repent and put our faith in Jesus, he takes on all our sin, and in turn gives us all his righteousness.

This changes how we pray.

Now when we read verses such as Deut. 30:16, we can respond very differently than before.

Our prayer no longer needs to be “God help me to keep your commands,” but instead something like this:

“God, thank you that you sent your Son, Jesus, to keep all the commands on my behalf.

Thank you, Jesus, that you lived a righteous and perfect life, and that you gave the righteousness you earned to me. Thank you that by your grace you delivered to me the favor and blessings of God.

Jesus, I want to do your will—not so I can earn your favor, but as an act of gratitude for what you have done for me!

When we see Jesus Christ as our righteousness, we will no longer be burdened by the law of God. What is more, the entire Old Testament will open up to us, beautifully displaying just how much Jesus has done for us. Understanding this will allow us to pray in a better way.

 

Today,  I pray that you will put your trust in Jesus. That you will trust that Jesus has made you righteous. I pray that you would know that, because Jesus has made you righteous, the favor and blessing of God is already upon you. And I pray that, because God’s favor is already upon you, your life today will be filled with grace and gratitude.

How To Become Silent Before God

The other week I wrote about Lectio Divina. One of my favorite ways to go deeper with the Bible. In that post, I made the point that if you want to hear from God, you have to learn to be silent before God. But I never actually described how a person becomes silent before God. And the truth is, being silent before God is actually quite hard. Maybe you have noticed this.

Because by quiet, I don’t mean just siting before God without talking. Though let’s be honest even that is hard enough sometimes. No, by quite I mean, quite in your soul, and in your mind. It is to “Be still…”. (Ps. 46:10).

Quiet before God is when you have no burdens weighing you down. No thoughts racing through your mind. No stress inside of you. When you are quiet before God there is a sense of feeling empty. But a good empty. An empty like a drinking glass is empty just before it is filled with water. An emptiness that is ready to be filled with the living presence of God.

So how does one actually enter into this kind of silence before God?

 “palms down palms up”

One method, which has most helped me, is what Richard Foster calls “palms down palms up”. He writes,

“Begin by placing palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. Inwardly you may pray ‘Lord, I give to you my anger toward John. I release my fear of my dentist appointment this morning. I surrender my anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills this month. I release my frustration over trying to find a baby-sitter for tonight.’ Whatever it is that weighs on your mind or is a concern to you, just say, ‘palms down.’ Release it. You may even feel a certain sense of release in your hands. After several moment of surrender, turn your palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord. Perhaps you will pray silently: ‘Lord, I would like to receive your divine love for John, your peace about the dentist appointment, your patience, your joy.’ Whatever you need, you say ‘palms up.’ Having centered down, spend the remaining moments in complete silence. Do not ask for anything. Allow the Lord to commune with you, to love you. If impressions or directions come, fine; if not fine.”[1]

Over the years I have added variations to this “palms down palms up”. Usually when I want to be silent before God I start with my hands out in front of me in a pushing position. Then every time I confess something that is on my mind I imagine that I am pushing it away from me and toward Jesus. Then I imagine Jesus literally taking each of my burdens. I do this until I can’t think of anything else to give over to Jesus—until I feel quiet and empty. Only then do I turn over my palms, and receive the gift God has for me.

For me “palms down palms up” (or some variation of it) has been the most effective way for me to enter into silence before God, in preparation to hear from God. I pray it works just as well for you too. If you’re interested in other Christian practices that have long helped people enter into the presence of God, I would highly recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.

 

[1] Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth 30-31