On Tuesday nights we are studying prayer. It is the third study we have done on prayer in our small groups. We are using a book and DVD by Philip Yancey called “Prayer - Does it Make Any Difference?” Last night we spent the session talking about how to pray. Some people wonder if they are praying the right way. Yancey says that if you are praying you are doing it the right way. In other words, there is no wrong way to pray. He said that prayer is a way of relating to God, not a skill set like double-entry booking.
How can you make prayer “work” for you? Here are some suggestions that were offered:
1. Set aside at least one specific time each day for prayer.
2. Create an environment for prayer - perhaps lighting a candle or playing music in the background while you pray.
3. Find a specific place that encourages you to pray. For example, an outdoor garden, a quiet place in your home, or sitting in your car during your lunch break.
4. Meditate on God and consider how he must feel about the issues and people you are praying for.
People have been praying for a long time. So we have mentors to instruct, guide, and encourage us. The Bible includes approximately 650 prayers of faithful believers who have gone before us. These prayers show how people in a variety of moods and circumstances have talked to God about important matters throughout history. They offer insight into prayer and how to pray. During the coming weeks as we journey through Lent, I challenge you to read some of these prayers with me. How about one each week beginning Ash Wednesday.
Week one - March 5 - 11
Genesis 18 - Abraham?s pray for Sodom
Week two - March 12 - 18
Exodus 15 - Moses? song to the Lord
Week three - March 19 - 25
Exodus 33 - Moses meets with God
Week four - March 26 - April 1
2 Samuel 7 - David?s response to God?s promises
According to Yancey, studying the Bible gives us a glimpse of the broad sweep of God's actions in history. It gets our own lives off center stage. We can review the big picture. We can place our own small story in the context of God's larger story. We learn that we are not the only ones who have wrestled with God or who has endured a time of wilderness and testing. Focusing on prayers from the Bible may help us recognize God's voice and improve our own prayer life.
Who will accept this challenge? Let me know, and we'll see what happens.
In a recent devotional I read this passage from Zephaniah 3:17 NLT:
“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
There are a lot of promises in this one short scripture:
1. God is with you.
2. He is your mighty savior.
3. He delights in you with gladness.
4. He calms your fears with his love.
5. He rejoices over you with joyful songs.
I know that we sometimes feel that God is far from us, yet we are promised here in scripture that he is with us. Not only is he with us but that he saves us. He helps us through difficult times. He is there whether we feel his presence or not. We have only to trust his word and realize his presence is near. We can reach out and find him near.
He delights in you! That seems like a strange concept. We make God happy. Of course, he knows our faults and sins, yet he provided a way through Jesus for us to come before him blameless. What a gift he has given us. And he delights in being our father.
He calms your fears. He knows when problems are swirling all around you. He senses your need to be held close and for your fears to be calmed. In those times he is your Comforter.
He rejoices over you with joyful songs. Anyone who has held a baby and sung quietly to him or her, knows exactly that feeling. Our god, the creator of the universe, loves you enough to sing joyfully over you. He loves you with an unconditional, everlasting love.
Who reads Zephaniah anyway? Don’t we prefer to read John or Luke? Yet here, hidden among the books of the Old Testament, God speaks directly to our hearts. You and I are blessed to be children of this great king!
We are people of habit. So much of what we do is done on “auto-pilot,” allowing us to get the routine things done while our mind is focused on other things. Sometimes habits are rather strange, or even unproductive. I must frequently participate in that barbaric ritual of wearing a tie. I can not tell you how many times I have tied a tie. I have the procedure down pat. Yet to this this day I can not tie one unless I am looking in a mirror. No mirror, no knot.
Someone said that a habit is just a behavioral groove we get into. Unfortunately, sometimes we dig the groove so deep that it becomes a rut, and we are stuck. This gets pretty bad when the habit or groove we find ourselves stuck in is destructive. You do know about these kinds of habits, don’t you? Feasting on too much junk food, slacking off, or poisoning the air with gossip or inappropriate responses are all habits that can reap unhappy consequences.
If a habit is a grooved behavior pattern, then perhaps we can also groove our spiritual growth, creating patterns that are more more Christlike. These new habits can lead to a far healthier spiritual life than we’ve settled for in the past. In fact, Paul advocates training ourselves in godliness, or as he puts it:
Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—
no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a
disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.
(1 Timothy 4:7-8)
Let me toss out two suggestions for beginning your spiritual workout. First, get in the habit of starting your morning with God. Waking up aware that God has given you yet another day to live unleashes enormous positive possibilities. Instead of hitting the snooze on that blasted alarm clock and pulling the covers up over your head, consider yourself blessed that you have a precious day given you by Someone who totally loves you, has your best interests at heart, and has offered to help you not only get through the day, but become a far finer person than you ever could on your own. Let Psalms 118:24 be your wake up call: "This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it."
Secondly, make it your habit to identify a specific ministry to do for God for the day. What will you do that honors the Lord, helps someone’s life to be a little better, and builds up God’s Kingdom? Paul’s vision for followers of Jesus is for us to “excel in gifts that build up the church” ( 1 Corinthians 14:12). What gift will you give today? Will it be a smile? A friendly word of encouragement? A chunk of your time? Some sweat and muscle power? Prayer? How can you let your light shine so people will praise God because of you? Get in the habit of using some time during each day ministering. It’s a behavioral groove that will keep you in top spiritual shape for life.
Christmas has come and gone. Now it is the season of the Epiphany. Now we celebrate the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles. Think of the Christmas scenes we are all familiar with. The angels came to the Jewish shepherds out on the hillside and announced the birth of the messiah. The Jewish people had looked forward to the coming of the messiah for centuries. It was a major part of their history. Now it had come to past. But, amazingly, the messiah who came to fulfill the Jewish prophecies, also came for those who were not Jews. The Jews of that time could not even imagine that. But God becoming flesh, the incarnation, was too big a thing to be limited only to the Jews. He came for all people!
The wise men who came to worship Jesus were not only Gentiles, they were people of another faith. Most likely they were Zoroasteric priests. They studied the stars and were amazed to see the bright star of Bethlehem. They knew that it announced the birth of a great king. And so, they followed it to worship and bring gifts to the Christ child. They probably had no idea the role they were playing in this great drama of God’s that was unfolding. But we look back and see it clearly.
There in the stable in Bethlehem, two groups are pictured worshiping the Christ child. First, the lowly Jewish shepherds. Second, the wealthy gentile wise men. No one was left out. The baby born that day was Lord of All! King of Kings! Savior to the world.