How Should We Pray To God

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There is a colleague of mine who reminds us weekly to send in current prayer requests and praise reports to her.  She then sends out the compiled list of our prayer/praise items to a large number of people who pray for all of us and the ministry work we do in Papua New Guinea.  Recently, she included in her reminder the following thoughts that someone else had shared with her.  I thought these were excellent thoughts worth passing on.  I will pick up on some of my thoughts after you read the six points below.

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“How Should We Pray To God”

1. I was reminded of James 5:17-18 which talks of Elijah praying and God causing a drought for 3 1/2 years and then he prayed for rain and it rained.  And we are reminded that he was a man like we are.  (Therefore pray! God is powerful.)

2.I was also reminded of James 4:1-3 where people don’t ask, so they don’t get, and then they ask but don’t get because they have the wrong motives.  They want it for their own pleasures and desires. (Ask with right motives.)

3. If we beg God, He might just give us what we ask for, but we might regret it later. Or at least others might. 2Kings 20:1-21:1 and 2Chron. 32:24-33:2 Hezekiah was told that he was going to die, but he prayed and wept and God healed him. God added 15 years to Hezekiah’s life. Unfortunately, Hezekiah responded in pride. God was angry with him and he repented. But he messed up when the Babylonians came and he showed them all the treasures he had and the temple. When he died, Manasseh became king at the age of 12.  He was Judah’s most wicked king reigning 55 years.  He would never have been born had God not healed Hezekiah. (Make sure what you are asking for is what God wants, because you might otherwise get something you really don’t want.)

4. I thought of Paul in 2 Cor.12:7-10. He said God had given him great revelation, but then to keep him humble he was given a thorn in the flesh.  He asked God three times to remove it, but God said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (God sometimes doesn’t give us what we ask for because He wants us to rely on Him and find our sufficiency in Him.)

5. The disciples asked Jesus how to pray and He said in Matt 6:9-13 the Lord’s Prayer which reminds us to ask for our “daily bread”. (Ask God for what we really need for the moment.)

6. Finally, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Jesus felt needs and asked if there was any way to avoid what he was about to experience. But He surrendered to God’s will and asked for the Father’s will to be done.)

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I was very impressed with what this person had to share.  So often I have read articles about prayer and there is much said about when and how often to pray, the body positions that can help us to pray and the kinds of prayers we can say.  But so much of this, while still helpful, seems to be focused in on the structure and physical elements involved in prayer.

But in these points listed above, I see so much clearer the reminder that we must have the right attitude when we come to God in prayer.  It is so important for us to remember just who we are and who God is as we approach Him.  Without denying the great importance that God places on each of us as individuals, I think it is still good for us to remember how very small and finite we are in this universe, and just how big and awesomely powerful our God is compared to us.

    

As I look into my current life situation, I am actually very grateful for being able to live with the muscular disease that I have. Of course it doesn’t feel very great many days as I battle fatigue and pain.  But my condition has brought me into a closer relationship with God than I ever had before.  It was in my days of sufficiency that I roared ahead in life and often forgot to include God in my daily affairs.  Now in my insufficiency, I seek out my God throughout each day, and I find He is not only there, but He meets me at my points of need so much more than I had even dreamed of.

And that is the point, I think, often when God “allows” difficulties and obstacles to come into our lives.  I believe that God wants us to slow down in our lives and humbly come to Him as our Maker, our Provider and our Sustainer.  That’s hard to do when we think so highly of ourselves and we seem to have no need for God in our lives.  And so God reminds us, sometimes gently, and sometimes not so gently, that we still need Him, and He needs us to come to Him.

My prayer for you my friend is that you too know this powerful God who loves to show His love and His mercy to us who are His created handiwork.  Let us come to God with a humble heart, and yet also come with expectant hearts that He will do great and mighty things in our lives.  Let us not presume too much, but also let us not assume that going to meet with God in prayer is optional for our lives.  Above all, let us let Him have His way in our lives.  You might be amazed at the wonderful blessings that lie in store for you as you remain obedient to Him.  May God bless you richly in Christ Jesus.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

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Witnesses Who Tell Us Who Jesus Is

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John 5:31 – 47

31 If I speak for myself, there is no way to prove I am telling the truth.32 But there is someone else who speaks for me, and I know what he says is true. 33 You sent messengers to John, and he told them the truth. 34 I don’t depend on what people say about me, but I tell you these things so that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that gave a lot of light, and you were glad to enjoy his light for a while.

36 But something more important than John speaks for me. I mean the things that the Father has given me to do! All of these speak for me and prove that the Father sent me. 37 The Father who sent me also speaks for me, but you have never heard his voice or seen him face to face. 38 You have not believed his message, because you refused to have faith in the one he sent.

39 You search the Scriptures, because you think you will find eternal life in them. The Scriptures tell about me, 40 but you refuse to come to me for eternal life.

41 I don’t care about human praise, 42 but I do know that none of you love God. 43 I have come with my Father’s authority, and you have not welcomed me. But you will welcome people who come on their own.44 How could you possibly believe? You like to have your friends praise you, and you don’t care about praise that the only God can give!

45 Don’t think that I will be the one to accuse you to the Father. You have put your hope in Moses, yet he is the very one who will accuse you. 46 Moses wrote about me, and if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me. 47 But if you don’t believe what Moses wrote, how can you believe what I say?

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Jill and I enjoy reading books.  We do have slightly different tastes in the stories we read though.  I’m much more of the science fiction intense espionage kind of guy, while Jill likes to read a good suspense legal thriller with lots of courtroom drama.  So I will read about aliens and distant galaxies or a book by Tom Clancy, and Jill might read an Agatha Christie or John Grisham novel.  But I can appreciate a good legal thriller too.  And that is partly what we have here in these verses of John.

When we watch a legal fiction story on TV today, we all watch as the sleuths and the police search to find the one witness who will “make the case” and put the bad guys away for good.  Sometimes, the most important piece of evidence is not even a person, but an item which ties the criminal to the crime.  And now in our modern scientific world, all that is needed sometimes is just a tiny bit of DNA to close the case.

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That is not what it was like though in first century Judaism.  When someone was accused of wrong doing, it was very clear in the Law of Moses what standards needed to be applied in the case.  Deuteronomy 19:15 tells us what that was: “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  This standard for gathering solid evidence of something needs to be kept in mind as we look briefly into John 5:31-47.

Now we all realize that Jesus is not actually standing in front of the court and facing accusers at this time.  (That would come later.)  But in many ways, with the persecution of the Jewish authorities heating up, Jesus was being put into the court of public opinion.  Some people were believing that He was in fact the Son of God, and that He had the authority of God Himself to do all the miracles which He did.  On the other hand, there was a growing opposition arising against Jesus, what He did, and what He taught.

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So Jesus challenges his “accusers” in this passage and lays down some pretty solid evidence with regards to who He really is.  First of all, Jesus mentions the testimony of John the Baptist.  Go back to John chapter one and read how John declares that God sent him baptizing people for the express purpose of discovering and revealing who Jesus was.  He saw the Holy Spirit come down upon Jesus at the baptism and then declared, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

As much as John the Baptist was respected as a great prophet, Jesus then goes on to say that there is a greater witness than John.  He basically says, “Look at the works (i.e. “miracles”) that I do, and they will tell you exactly who I am.”  And in fact, God Himself is called upon as a witness.  God declared openly, “This is My Son in whom I am well pleased.”  (See Mark 1:11)  And further, many of the Jews knew that only a person approved by God Himself could do the kinds of miracles that Jesus did.  Remember what Nicodemus said in John 3:2?  “For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

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Jesus has already given three key witnesses which clearly show Jesus to be “one sent from God.”  But the Jewish leaders might not accept these testimonies.  So then Jesus hits them right where they lived.  He claimed that the Scriptures (i.e. the Old Testament), and even Moses in his writings could back up Jesus’ claim of being the great Messiah and the One promised by God to be the Savior of the world.  How much more evidence did they need to believe in Jesus?

And I now ask this question to all who read this.  Look at the wondrous universe we live in.  Look at the new born baby.  Remember when you “could have been killed” in a near-accident.  Look into the lives of really alive Christians who used to be not so nice people, but God changed them.  How much evidence do you need to know that what the Bible proclaims about God, about Christ, and those who follow Him in loving obedience are all true as well.  Think on that my friend.  Don’t be closed like these Jewish leaders were.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Faith Is Putting Words Into Action

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What Is Faith – Part 6

This will be the last article on this miniseries about “Faith”. We have learned about a lot of important truths in this miniseries that I have based off of a series of sermons preached by Leon Fontaine. He reminds us that faith comes from hearing God’s word, every Christian possesses faith, which is a matter of the heart, and that God really wants the very best for you and me, His children. (You can click here to go to the site where you can download past sermons as podcasts.)

In this article, I want to expand what I wrote about in Part 2 entitled, “The Facts About Faith.” There is great truth in the idea that words carry power. It is well known in Modern Psychology and in Counseling that words can be used to build up people or to cut people down. There is a positive effect upon people when they are complimented and encouraged, and there is a negative effect on people when they are criticized or ridiculed.

But there is a lot more that goes on in our use of words than just making people or ourselves feel good or bad. We should not analyze the power of words and simply on the psychological or emotional level. We need to realize that there is a spiritual level, or a spiritual reality, that can be tapped into when we speak. Again, let me state emphatically that I am not referring to the magical or ritualistic use of words.

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Listening to Leon’s sermon, he says that words literally function in three realms. The first is the physical realm and can be seen in something as simple as a person saying something embarrassing and then turning beet red. At a deeper level, when a person continually speaks negatively, that person is dumping chemicals throughout their body which will affect their mood and can lead to depression.

Words function secondly on the mental realm which is also at the emotional level. Loving words can build a person up and they both think and feel good about themselves. But as we know, too often, words are used spitefully and in a hurtful way which can destroy a person’s self-worth and identity. Even though the words that are spoken are often not true, when they are accepted as true by the person, then they become true.

And that leads us to the third level, namely that words function within the spiritual realm. It is at this level that a person sees himself or herself as God created them to be. It is at this level that we see God, life, and reality from God’s perspective as presented to us in Scripture and not as others around us might suggest, or what we may have been taught to believe within ourselves.

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What I am suggesting is that the words that we speak are a reflection of what we think and truly believe. And, as is well known within both secular counseling as well as in Christian counseling, you will ultimately experience what you believe. Therefore, if you are a negative minded person and speak negative words, then you will undoubtedly experience negative things within your life.

The opposite of this is just as true. If you are a positive minded person and speak positive words, then you will experience positive things within your life. In James 3:3-5 it says:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

A truth that can be surfaced from these verses is that we can determine the direction and the future of our lives simply by the words that we speak. For some, that could be a scary thought. I would like to suggest instead that this is an opportunity presented before each of us. With God’s help, and a positive attitude and beliefs on our part, we can in many ways control the outcome of our lives.

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Here is an interesting fact to consider: we can talk out loud at a top rate of about 150 words per minute, but our minds which are constantly thinking are “talking to us” at a rate of about 1300 words per minute. It is in this latter group that we get what they call “self talk”. So the question is, what is it that we are telling ourselves about God, life, and ourselves.

Let’s get real practical now then as we conclude this series on faith. The things that we put in our heart feed our minds, and our minds are constantly speaking to us. So have we accepted negativity and disbelief into our hearts? Then that is what we will feed our minds and what we will speak into our lives. We must not allow ourselves to do this.

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The solution then is to fill our hearts, even saturate them, with the truths about God such as His love and mercy and grace, all of which is found within the pages of Scripture. And that is where we started this series, namely that faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Then as we discover the wonderful promises in Scripture meant for us, we must speak those promises into our hearts and into our minds and so by faith see them become realities in our lives.

In the 30+ years that I have been a missionary and minister of the gospel I have found the spiritual truths that I have presented above to be very real. My prayer is that you too would be able to walk this walk of faith and see God work in your life the same ways that I’ve seen him work in mine.

Where Does Faith Come From

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What Is Faith – Part 4

Here is a short summary of what we have learned so far about Faith in our little miniseries of articles. First of all, we know that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) As an individual is exposed to the truth of God’s Word, a seed of faith is planted within the heart of that individual and by the grace of God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that faith will grow and ultimately bloom when that individual makes an act of their will to choose to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The second thing that we learned, which almost seems too obvious, is that all believers then possess faith within themselves. But in a previous article we talked about how faith is like a muscle and needs to be exercised to stay healthy and grow stronger. So it is not a question of whether believers have faith or God, but whether or not they are exercising that faith.

A third thing that we have talked about with regards to faith, is that when we are truly exercising our faith, according to Mark 11:23, when we encounter major obstacles (i.e. mountains) in our life, we can speak out against that and have assurance that God will provide the means or the way for that mountain to be removed. Read last week’s article to see how God answered a major prayer request in our son’s life.

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Now I want to talk about where our faith actually resides. Pastor Leon Fontaine from Springs Church (Calgary) is right on when he says that “Faith is of the heart, and not the head.” To me, this is a crucial point since most of us in North America and Europe (and also now in some developing countries) have grown up in a highly technological age and exist in an evidence-based society. In other words, most people today would say, “Seeing is believing!” instead of “Believing is seeing!”

In our Western culture, it is very easy for us to try to deal with the many challenges and difficulties we face in life from a rational perspective. If it’s a financial issue we are dealing with, we try to work hard, spend wisely, and invest carefully. If it’s a medical or physical issue we are facing, we visit the doctor, take medications, and perhaps change our diet. Whatever the issue is we may be facing, more often than not, we try to deal with the situation first in our own strength.

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But that is not the way of Faith. Romans 1:17 tells us that “the righteous shall live by faith.” And I believe that here, and in other places in Scripture, when it talks about “living”, it is not just referring to our future eternal life with God, but also includes the idea of a full life here on earth. In John 10:10, in the Amplified Bible, Jesus says, ” I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).”

I think what happens for many people when things continually seem to go poorly in their lives, is that they see the obstacles that are there and decide that 1) the obstacles are too difficult to be removed, or 2) they don’t deserve God’s help, or 3) God would not care enough about them to help. But all of these are just excuses to not “live by faith” and are results of people thinking from their heads rather than believing from the hearts.

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You see, from a biblical perspective, the “heart” is the central core and the place of true existence for us as humans. And that is why Scripture tells us in Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” And Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

The picture that I get from these verses is that our hearts are like gardens, which when taken care of well will produce beautiful growing flowers and plants and allows a sparkling and bubbling stream to flow out of it. But if we do not tend to our gardens well, and allow thorns, thistles, and weeds to overgrow it, then nothing good can come out of it. As the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out!”

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So what does this all have to do with faith and our minds and our hearts? Our true existence is in our heart, but the things that we process and hold within our minds will eventually sink down to take root inside our hearts. Therefore, if we allow negative thoughts and ideas to continually be in our minds, or if we hold on to negative attitudes like bitterness, anger, critical judgments, etc., then over time, we condition our hearts to be a seed bed of negativity and doubt and unbelief.

Now that we know that faith comes from the heart and that the head influences the heart, we need to do like what Paul says in Romans 12:1-2, to renew our minds so that we are not conformed to the ways of this world. Then, we are free to allow our garden within our heart to grow faith. But as with most things in the Christian life, this is not meant to be a one time event. Rather, this is meant to be an ongoing way of life for us.

Spiritually Dangerous Attitudes

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Read Hebrews 10:26-31

It is not certain who wrote the book of Hebrews.  But many believe the author was writing to Jewish Christians.  There are points throughout the book where it is clear that these Christians were enduring hardships, even persecution for their faith.  The author wants to strengthen their faith, pointing out just how superior Jesus is to key OT figures, and even more superior to angels.  He demonstrates time and again how much better the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood is than to the limited and temporary Old Covenant build on the sacrifices of animals year after year.

But there is one more concern that the writer touches upon a number of times throughout the book, namely the fact that there is the danger of Christians turning away from God and rejecting all that was once held to be true.  He speaks quite bluntly about this in the passage quoted above, Hebrews 10:26-31.  It is hard to believe that a Christian would ever turn his or her back on God, since they have, as the author puts it, “received the knowledge of the truth.”

The question some might ask is, “was this just ‘head’ knowledge, and so that person was never actually saved?”  No, the wording here speaks of not just knowing facts about God, but rather it speaks of someone who has had “a deep experiential relationship knowledge of God.”  There can be no doubt that person had been born again and was a child of God.  So what happened?

The key is in the wording of the actions of the person.  In verse 26, the verb speaks of a person who “deliberately and habitually chooses to sin against God.”  This attitude is expanded in verse 29 where the person has “trampled underfoot the Son of God, treated as unholy the blood of the covenant, and insulted the Spirit of grace.”  Put in simpler terms, the person has decided he wants nothing more to do with Jesus, he has considered the sacrifice of Christ as being meaningless, and speaks out against God and considers Him to be a God of wrath and punishment, not a God of love.

I’ve pondered this many times, and tried to figure out how a person who loves God, could become a person who hates God.  And I think part of the answer lies within the very nature of human culture, whether it be Western or non-Western culture.  Our attitudes towards God can be so negatively influenced by our culture that the results are that our beliefs are correspondingly incorrect.  And this can cause a person to start the walk of faith, and end up at least ignoring God, if not outright denying God in their lives.

In the more developed countries, where we also see the most blatant forms of materialism and consumerism, God is treated more as a Bargain Warehouse Operator, or an Emergency Medical Service Provider.  In the former case, whenever we have a need (whether it is a felt need or a real need) we turn to God and ask (perhaps demand) God for it.  And when God does not provide, we begin inch by inch to turn away from God, and we rely on self-dependence and see God as irrelevant.  Or in the latter case. when a crisis of any kind come upon us (physical, medical, financial, marital, etc.) we cry out to God demanding, begging, pleading with Him to do something.  But when the situation does not resolve itself the way we think it should, we get angry with God and shake our fist at Him in defiance, and our hearts get hardened to the idea that God could ever be a loving God.

But come back to Hebrews 10 with me and see how the passage concludes.  Verse 30 speaks of a God who knows all things, and He will ultimately judge all things and all people.  If life, circumstances, or especially other people have mistreated you or harmed you in any way, God himself says, “I will avenge.”  We must trust in and wait patiently for His justice.  But better than justice, we can know His grace, for God says in verse 17 with regards to us who believe in Christ and ask forgiveness for our sins, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And the Hebrew writer gives us this encouragement in verse 23, “…for He who promises is faithful.”

In conclusion, let us not judge God by the circumstances of our lives, which change day by day.  Is God real?  Yes!  Does He answer our prayers?  Yes, though often in ways we did not expect, or necessarily understand at the time.  But let us be careful not to let our hearts become hardened in our attitudes against God.  So often it is not one thing that starts this slide into unbelief and disobedience.  It is a lot of tiny slips, when we tried to control the circumstances of our lives instead of patiently trusting and believing that God could and would work out the situation.  We must believe that He is for us, and not against us.  Or we will find ourselves to have become enemies of God.