Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18.
Prayer is a foundation of the Christian faith. According to The Barna Research Group, 98% of born-again Christians pray in a given week and would agree prayer is important. One survey of evangelical leaders worldwide listed “Prayer: The need for more ongoing, passionate prayer in both personal and church life”, as the No. 1 issue facing the church today. The Bible contains 377 references to praise and 375 references to prayer. Prayer is important.
But, what is prayer? What is prayer not? How do we pray? Who do we pray to? Are there different kinds of prayer? Who can pray? Can we expect answers? These and many other questions concerning prayer will be answered in the coming weeks in this feature.
What is prayer? Prayer is communion with God, not just talking to God but with God. Prayer is talking and listening. If you’re talking with someone who is a lot smarter than you, wouldn’t you listen a lot more than you talk? Talk with God like you would a trusted friend; someone who truly cares for you because God does, (1 Peter 5:7). Be quiet and listen to what He has to say. He probably won’t speak in an audible voice but will speak into your spirit. Listen!
Who do we pray to? We should pray to God the Father. God said in Deuteronomy 5:7, “You shall have no other gods before me”. Jesus said, “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” (John 16:23). And who can argue with Jesus’ own example of prayer, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” (Matthew 6:9).
This post was given to me by co-worker Debbie Sanders who got the revelation from God in the same way He speaks to my Spirit. I am glad to share this in the hopes it will encourage someone to hang on during the “winter” seasons of their lives and focus on the coming Spring.
Don’t Die In Winter
For quite some time the Lord has been speaking to me about something that many people may or may not be aware of; and that is that more people die in the winter months in our area more than any other time of the year, especially the elderly. I know this because I work at an agency where our services are for the elderly and this is a fact we all know, as we see firsthand those we serve die more in the winter season.
As I was thinking about this, the Lord spoke to my heart about this physical fact as related to a Spiritual lesson. What happens in the winter in the natural? There are more days of gray skies than sunshine in the winter, the temperatures are usually for the most part much colder and people stay indoors more. These are all factual statements, so what in the world does that have to do with the Spiritual lesson here?
We all go through winter, both in the natural and in our spiritual lives. Spiritually, there are times when there are more gray skies than sunshine, times of difficulty and turmoil where it feels as if the SON isn’t shining in your life. But just like the winter sun, while still there, it is hidden behind the clouds. The SON is never not there; He is just hidden behind the clouds all our problems, because we allow those problems to be our focus. Think about this. If this is my problem, (actually hold something in front of your face), and this is my continuing focus, what else can I see? NOTHING, ONLY MY PROBLEM, not Jesus! We take our eyes off of Jesus in those “cloudy, gray days” and we become disconnected with the One who came to set us free. Not because He has moved, but we have allowed something to come in and change our focus.
In the winter, the temperatures are usually colder, sometimes they are freezing. Spiritually we become colder and sometimes we just freeze up. We become so cold and indifferent to the things of God that no amount of encouragement or kind words can bring us around because, again, we have allowed the gray skies and cold temperatures to affect us to the point that nothing moves us. I know this, I have been there. Have you?
In the winter we stay indoors, spiritually, we pull ourselves away, we decide we don’t want anyone around, don’t need anyone and we sure don’t want the Spirit speaking anything to our heart and mind that may cause us to see that we need to change!
In the natural, there is not much we can do about any of these elements of fact; it is colder, more gray skies, and we stay in because of the weather and the cold. But spiritually it can be very different. You may ask why does it matter? Remember the first fact I stated? More people die in the winter. Again in the natural, there’s not much we can change about that, but I would say to you now, “don’t die in the winter.” Not speaking physically but spiritually. What is happening in your life at this time that is causing the difficulties, the turmoil? Are you constantly focusing on those; your gray skies? Have you pulled yourself away from others of like precious faith where you can be nurtured and comforted, but instead choose to not want to be around anyone because of how you feel? The poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire unto himself.”, a spiritual truth. The word tells us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, not because God needs us to be in church, but because we need to be in church. To have our faith encouraged, to hear the truth of the word of God and be in fellowship with one another, because we are not an island! God never intended us to be, but just as soon as we have difficulties, that seems to be the first course of action; to pull ourselves away. Does it ever occur to us that is a ploy of the enemy, to bring things on us and then make us think we need to go it alone because, “no one really cares anyway”. That is what he tells us, isn’t it? But remember he is a liar and the father of all lies, the truth is not in him.
So, while we cannot change the natural order or fact that more people die in the winter, we can change our winter spiritually speaking. The gray skies can become as bright as the noonday sun IF WE ALLOW THE SON, Jesus, to come into our hearts and minds filling us with the warmth of His love and change us. Yes, it is winter outside, but it doesn’t have to be winter in here, in our hearts. Jesus is here, his love is shining on us if we allow it and the difficulties and problems that we are so focused on may not immediately go away, but with Jesus, He will take us through any difficulty and give us a warm, clear path to travel. Allow the SON to shine in your life and on your situation. And, DON’T DIE IN THE WINTER!
Given February 1, 2014
Most of us are aware that there is a big football game on February 2, 2014. There will be two teams of players who are top athletes competing for the coveted title, “Super Bowl Champions”. We realize they didn’t start training last month for this but have put in years of effort in all areas of their lives to reach this level. Their training regiment has become their lifestyle, directed by a coach, and they focus fully on a plan in order to achieve their goals. They usually are blessed from birth with certain physical attributes that suit the position they play and they develop this God-given physique to the max. They are dedicated to their purpose and goal and don’t let the trappings of their surroundings distract them, (usually). These professional athletes stand out from other athletes and are cheered on by the millions who watch them perform from the stands or through the media.
Can we compare Christianity to super athletes? Does God want us to “perform” at that level? Can we do it? Are we willing? Let’s look at the comparison. When we’re saved, we have our own plan developed by our “coach”, (God), which is designed to take us from babies to top performers comparable to Jesus. “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40). God wants us all to be part of a powerful Heavenly team on earth to defeat the enemy and carry out God’s plan. So, what does it take?
To be a super Christian, we must dedicate ourselves to “the Plan”. We must do whatever Coach God says; study, train, practice, and prepare for the next game. The super athlete doesn’t sit on the couch and pray for big muscles, he has to get up and work! It’s the same with aspiring super Christians. Sure we must pray but there’s so much more to it than that. We have to study, work, practice, go through testing over and over again as we develop and move from “glory to glory”, (2 Corinthians 3:18). It’s hard and sometime it hurts. It takes sacrifice and a lifestyle change to be successful.
Not very many athletes make it to the Super Bowl. However we can all make it to the Heavenly Super Game but some will be watching and others playing. What about you?
Given January 16, 2014
When we’re born, we begin on the journey toward our destiny. For the first several years, we travel with our family who may or may not take us down the right path. Then at a certain age, we leave the vehicle we’ve been riding in and go it on our own; we make our own decisions about where we’re going, how to get there, and where to stop along the way.
Then we hear about this man named Jesus. He invites us to stop going our own way, turn around and let Him direct us in the way He wants us to go; toward our true destiny. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:6). We have a choice to make; continue on our own or get in with Jesus and let him drive. Get in with Jesus!
So, we begin a trip with Jesus. He drives, decides on the route to take, how fast to go, and when and where to stop. Sometimes He’ll take us on a side road that we can’t figure out why He did that. Then we find out there was an accident on the main road and we would have been delayed for hours. Other times, we’ll be delayed because of trouble on our trip but it gives us a chance to talk with Jesus and learn from Him. Then there are the times when we see something interesting on an exit and make Jesus stop and let us off to go check it out. He advises us against this unscheduled stop but won’t make us stay with Him. So we go off on our own until we discover it was a big mistake. But there He is, right there with us, ready to take us back in His vehicle and continue on our way. Sometimes the road is rough and we don’t understand things. Sometimes He makes us change a flat tire or help push us out of the mud. However it all helps to strengthen us and teach us His way of doing things. He tells us a little about where we’re going and His plan for us, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Today, if you’re on your own or off on an exit, take…a trip with Jesus. He knows where you’re supposed to go.
Given January 9, 2014
They were cutting wood. Five guys from church who had volunteered to help cut some firewood for old Ms. Foleman who had broken her arm in a fall and needed some help. It was a fairly warm, sunny day in early fall.
There was the choir director, a deacon, and three other men including Jerry who had been attending church for several months. They didn’t know much about Jerry except that he had been mentioned on the prayer list for a heart problem and for salvation. The guys had befriended Jerry and were glad he showed up to help Ms. Foleman.
They had almost finished cutting and splitting the pile of logs and Jerry was wielding the axe on the last few of them. They had had a good time talking about the ballgame, the new restaurant that had recently opened in town, and the strange characters each one of them had in their families. They talked about some of the outreach programs the church was involved in and how they were helping the community.
As the axe came down on an oak log, Jerry suddenly stopped, grabbed his chest and stumbled over toward the pile of wood. The guys grabbed him and helped him to lie on the ground while one of them called 911 and another called his wife. Jerry said, “My heart!” and was struggling and it scared the men. How bad was this? Was Jerry going to make it? In a few minutes, which seemed like an hour, the rescue squad arrived and quickly loaded Jerry inside and headed for the hospital. The guys jumped in their vehicles and followed praying along the way.
At the emergency room, the guys sat waiting as the ER personnel worked feverishly on Jerry as his family began to arrive. They told them what had happened at the wood pile and joined them in prayer for Jerry. After the prayer, the guys began talking among themselves about Jerry remembering the prayer request about his heart and why he was even taking a chance cutting wood. But Jerry wanted to help and be a part. Then they remembered the second part of the prayer request; Jerry’s not being saved. They began to ask each other if any of them had shared Jesus with Jerry. No one had. They had just spoken briefly with Jerry at church and on this day, had talked about the ballgame and other trivial things. Oh no!
Finally, the doctor came out to talk to the family. As the guys watched in horror, they saw Jerry’s wife begin to cry loudly and his children holding each other. Jerry had died.
Not a word was spoken by the guys for several minutes as they watched the scene before them and thought about the opportunity they had missed that day. Jerry may have made a decision for Jesus in the ER or at church last Sunday but the guys will never know. They will know, and it will haunt them, that they had a chance to talk to Jerry about Jesus and didn’t do it. How tragic.
We are all in the position of the guys. There is someone, maybe several, who we know is not saved and we haven’t said anything to them about it. Think about it. Make a decision and act on it. Someone’s eternity depends on you. ”We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4).
Given November 2008
I was on the Board of Deacons at my church and we had a deacon’s meeting on this evening. After the normal “business” of church administration, our pastor directed us to think about what our dreams were for our church. Our AG church, I think, is a progressive congregation focusing on Jesus and leaning toward the contemporary style of worship. Our pastor is a gifted leader and is not satisfied with, “church as usual” and, thus, our church is different than most in our area of Southwest Virginia. The early church was different too, wasn’t it?
As we talked about what we, as deacons, dreamed for our church, some things mentioned were, “500 for Saturday night prayer.”, “A place where miracles happen regularly.”, and “Hosting a youth conference with thousands in attendance.”. All these things sounded great and I know they can all come to pass. “All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23). So, what would God say about our dreams?
I got this vision, or revelation, as I frequently do, of me telling God my dreams for our church. As I told God one dream, He’d say, “OK, no problem.”. I’d tell Him another and He’d say, “I can do that.” With another, He’s say, “All these things are easy for me and I want to make your dreams realities but you’re not dreaming big enough! And, you know, your dreams depend on you too. Do you really believe I can and will do these things? Are you reading My Word and following My commands? Are you willing to sacrifice and pray to help make these dreams come to pass?”. I realized many of the things we ask God for, things we pray for, He is ready and willing to speak them into existance but is waiting for us to do our part.
“Be ye doers of the Word and not hears only“. (James 1: 22). This is so important. What’s your dream for your church, your family, your job, or your life. God is able, God is willing, and He could very well be waiting on you. Ask Him what you are to do. You probably already know.
Given December 31, 2013
As the year 2013 comes to a close and 2014 looms ahead, let’s look at this like a book of our lives. Chapter 2013 is finished and we’re ready to turn the page to the next chapter. What is in this new chapter? Will it be a continuation of the last chapter? Will things that happened in previous chapters affect this new one? Is there something new and wonderful in store in chapter 2014? By the way, who is the author of this book of our lives? Let’s look at that.
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16). God’s eyes saw us before we were born and He made a plan for us; that’s pretty awesome. He wrote His plan down and it was set into motion on the day you were born. But there is a problem; the devil has a plan for us too, “to kill, steal, and destroy” us, (John 10:10). But didn’t Jesus defeat the devil when He rose from the dead? Yes He did but old Satan and his fallen angel crew are real good at deceiving and tricking us into believing his lies. So what about our book?
First, a thought about previous chapters. We all have made mistakes in our past lives that we can go back and read about in our book. Don’t do that! If we have confessed our mistakes, repented, and asked for forgiveness, those things are not in God’s book. Look what He said, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25). God erased your sins from His book, for His own sake, He doesn’t want to see us as that old sinful person. So why do we keep going back and reading our bad chapters? The only reference to those bad decisons may be a footnote at the bottom of the page to show us how that mistake was used by God, (if we let Him), to grow us and bring us to the next level of accomplishment. So it’s OK to look at the footnote for learning but not for guilt. He even said anything we lost or had stolen from us back then would be restored, (see Joel 2:25).
So, what will we read in chapter 2014? A lot of it is up to us. Will we follow what God has already written or will we write our own life version? I’m not sure what God’s version for me is but I read from His book that it’s pretty good. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11). So let’s humble ourselves, pray, seek God, and turn away from evil, (see 2 Chronicles 7:14), and chapter 2014 will be one to remember. Let’s not just copy and paste chapter 2013 but let’s allow God’s writing to come to pass. And you know, we’re almost to the end of this book.
Given November 25, 2013
The plan in a football game is for the team, working together, to move the football down the field to hopefully cross the goal line and score a touchdown. This is accomplished by a variety of running and passing plays which are designed to gain a maximum number of yards. However, most of the time, the plays do not work perfectly because each player does not perfectly execute his assignment. The opposing players have something to do with that because they’re goal is to stop you from gaining any yards and even to cause you to lose ground. Sometimes the team will score a quick touchdown by gaining a lot of yards on one play but usually they consistently move the ball down the field 2-3 yards at a time. It would be nice to score each time you run a play but usually it takes a lot of work, time and effort to achieve your goal. Grind out the yards, suffer an occasional setback, but keep moving forward toward the goal line.
The Christian life is very similar. Our plan is to work together as a church, moving through life toward the goal of entering Heaven. There are a variety of ways to do this; Bible study, prayer, church attendance, working with fellow believers, practicing our faith all the while listening to God. Sometime it’s harder to do because our “teammates” are off doing their own thing or not following the design of the play. And of course, we have opposition, the devil and his team who are always trying to impede our progress. We may sometimes make good gains but many times it’s the day to day hard work and effort to stick with the plan and keep steadily moving forward.
But one day, if we persist, we will be victorious and enter Heaven. We will have won the prize, (see Philippians 3:14). The great cloud of witnesses in the stands of Heaven will erupt in cheers as we enter the gates. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, (Hebrews 12:1). Listen to the coach, practice and study, play hard, work as a team and let’s win this thing!
Given November 11, 2013
The football coach; sometimes you praise him, sometimes you question his decisions, but you know he always has the best interests of the team in mind. He’s the guy who puts his players through all kinds of hard, and many times, painful drills with the goal of preparing them to face the opponent. “No pain, no gain!” He says. He teaches them all the rules so they can play the game without being penalized which would give the other team an advantage. He gives them team rules of conduct which are for their benefit as players and individuals but also that they might represent the team in a positive light. The coach, he leads the team with the help of a group of assistants who follow his lead to accomplish their common goals which include athletic and personal improvement, integrity, sportsmanship and ultimately, victory. However, to achieve these goals, the players have to submit to the coach; they have to do what he says, follow his rules, and do their best to support him, their fellow players, and those who follow the team.
God; sometimes we praise Him but sometimes we question or don’t understand His decisions but we must know that He always has our best interests at heart. If we choose to be on His team, He will put us through all kinds of hard and painful training in order to be successful for His “team” and to defeat the enemy, the devil. Through God’s word, the Bible, and prayer, He will teach us His way so we can be effective in the game of life and please “the Coach”. His way will not only benefit us but our team members and all who are a part of the team. God leads His team with the help of His assistants…who are the players! Their loyalty and service makes them better “players” and helps the team to victory. We have to choose to be on God’s team, to submit to His rules, and support Him. “Put me in Coach.” “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall now want…He leads me in paths of righteousness…I will fear no evil for Thou art with me…surely Goodness and Mercy shall follow me and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord…Forever.” (From Psalm 23).