Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Pint of Peace Please

By: Adam McClendon

I’m so stressed out.  I mean really stressed.  I feel overwhelmed, under-impressed, underachieved, underwater, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah.  I wish I could just go to Target’s customer service and say, “Uhm, yes.  I’d like to purchase a pint of peace please.”  Yes, ridiculous, but so very true.  I can’t believe how often I succumb to the pressures of life and begin to worry. 

Then, this morning, I’m praying and studying Scripture, when this verse just tackled my heart.

Isaiah 53:5: But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

If I have peace with God now through the blood of Jesus Christ, then what else is there to worry about?  I have peace with God!  So, maybe the income will be short this month, or maybe the test comes back positive, or maybe my child is as annoying as they seem, or maybe the dog did ruin the new rug, or maybe my house will not be clean when the in-laws arrive, or maybe my house will be foreclosed on, or maybe I will have to go to the grocery store again, or maybe my spouse will file the divorce papers, or maybe I did fail the biology test, or maybe, or maybe, or maybe.

How can these temporal, petty, ultimately insignificant, many times never-even-happening things compare with the fact that I have been reconciled to God through the blood of Christ? 

This does not belittle the reality that some of these things are worthy of attention; however, they are not to be the ultimate focus of my heart, and, so long as the ultimate focus of my heart is maintained upon being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, then I have nothing to fret over.  I have peace with God.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

When Good Things Become God Things

By: Charlie Kelly
Charlie is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I can always feel it coming.  Another sports season is just around the corner.  The banter is already starting.  Fans touting their team’s previous record.  Excitement stirring over the latest recruits.  The casual jabs at the fans of the big rival.  Soon the real show will begin.  Stadiums will fill with their loyal subjects, decked out in team colors, face-paint and foam fingers.  The chants will echo.  The mascot will dance down the sideline. Anxiety, elation, and despair will sweep around stadiums and living rooms while grown men live vicariously through their hometown warriors.

Being from Georgia, I have experienced my share of great expectations eventually being crushed by what seems like a regional curse.  I remember one particular friend who told me that he could not bring himself to take phone calls at his home after a loss.  Many people’s entire week will be either made or ruined by the final numbers on the scoreboard.  Looking at them the next day, fans from the losing side often appear as if they just lost a family member.

I’m a sports fan.  I’m not knocking rooting for the home team, or even getting excited about it.  There’s a place for that.  The problem is that some of the most dangerous things in life are good things.  Whenever we take a good thing, and make it a god thing, that’s a bad thing.  This improper elevation of affections is natural for us.  John Calvin famously said that “the human heart is an idol factory.”

Imagine you went to a friend’s house and found them gardening in their front yard.  As you approached you noticed that they were digging holes for their flowers with a jewel-laden, golden chalice.  Surely you would have chastised your friend for using such an expensive, precious cup for such a common task.  The problem would not have been with digging the holes.  With a shovel, that is a right and proper thing to do.  But a golden chalice is made to serve a more noble purpose.

Being made in the image of God, we are indeed created to glory in something outside ourselves.  What a shame if the practical climax of the affections of our heart are wasted in the dirt of trivial games.  Again, there is nothing wrong with rooting for the home team, but consider how your affections for those things stack up against your affections for Christ.

When I think about something worth getting excited about…

I see a man standing on the bow of a boat being tossed in a tumultuous storm, telling it to shut up and sit down – and it obeys because it hears the very One who made it.

I see a man sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, surrounded by angels unable to look, in the middle of a smoke-filled temple whose very foundations literally shake at the declaration of His holiness.

I see a man on a white horse, with eyes ablaze in manifested power, having tattooed on his thigh “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

I think of the experience of Him in 1989, when this little 9-year-old boy knelt before Him on an old metal stool and felt the chains of sin and death snap away – and the Sovereign and Omnipotent grasp of that same man snatched him out of the kingdom of darkness and thrust him into the Light.

Now that… is worth getting excited about. As C.S. Lewis said, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Elements of Effective Prayer

By: Adam McClendon

Prayer is an important aspect of the spiritual life, but if we are honest, we’d probably admit that we pray much less than we ought.  That’s why Wayne Grudem’s often cited quote is such a stinging rebuke.  In his Systematic Theology book, he writes:  

“If we were really convinced that prayer changes the way God acts, and that God does bring about remarkable changes in the world in response to prayer, as Scripture repeatedly teaches that he does, then we would pray much more than we do.  If we pray little, it is probably because we do not really believe that prayer accomplishes much at all” (377).

At the same time, we acknowledge that God is not a genie in bottle just waiting to serve our every wish.  God’s plans, while at times including, are bigger than our individual wants and desires despite society’s continual cry that life is about me, I deserve answers now, and I deserve whatever it is I desire.

Nevertheless, despite warped views of God and prayer, Scriptures does provide glimpses into an effective prayer life.  This post is not about how to “get what we want” from God; rather, it is seeking to understand God’s design for his people in approaching him in prayer.  It is to try and understand some of the elements evident in an effective prayer life. 

So, here are 5 common elements of an effective prayer life:

1.    Petition

We cannot be effective in receiving an answer from God about that which we never asked of him.  The Scriptures are constantly telling us to bring our requests before God (Phil 4:6).  James 4:2 even goes so far as to say that there are things that we do not have because we failed to ask, and then it continues to reveal that when we do ask, we often have the wrong self-pleasure-driven motives.

2.    Privacy

Do you ever find it easier to pray with a group than by yourself?  I do.  Yet, the Bible presents a private aspect to prayer.  It is not that we have to pray by ourselves, even though we should have a faithful and consistent private prayer life, but we do need to be careful about how praying in front of people shifts our focus off of God. 

For example, we are more tempted to try and impress people with our words worrying what others think.  We might worry about whether we are saying the “right” things the “right” way.  We might be inhibited from just being honest and real before God.

For these and other reasons, Jesus, when asked to teach the disciples to pray, encouraged them to have an active and private prayer life.  He said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:5-6). 

This speaks as much to motive as it does setting, but we will get to that later. 

3.    Passion

Passion is not the same as emotion.  We don’t have to be screaming or crying, but we should be calling out from a heart of passion for the things of God on behalf of the people of God.  This too is demonstrated repeatedly in the Scriptures, such as in Acts 12:5, “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”

4.    Purity

We are called to be pure in our attitudes and in our actions.

For example, with our attitudes, the Bible speaks of not experiencing effective prayer because we ask with wrong motives (Jms 4:3), seek to please or impress others (Matt 6:5), try to manipulate God by using a lot of words or the right words (Matt 6:7), think we are better than others (Luke 9:9-14), or are harboring anger, bitterness, resentment, or unforgiveness towards another (Matt 5:23-24; Mark 11:25).

Additionally, the Bible teaches that we are to be pure in our actions.  God does not stand in a right disposition to respond favorably to prayer when we have unrepentant sin in our lives.  Proverbs 15:8 & 29 declare, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him,” and “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous” (see also Prov 28:9; Jms 5:16; 1 Pet 3:7).

5.    Persistence

Finally, we are to continue to bring our requests before God persistently demonstrating our trust in him and our need for him.  Scriptures demonstrate that the people of God are to continually bring their requests to God. 

Acts 1:14, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

Possibly, two of the greatest examples of this truth are seen in Jesus teachings on prayer in Luke 11:5-8 & 18:1-8.

These elements are not parts of a magic formula for which we can be assured of having the answer we want to prayer; however, it does reveal something of the nature in which God desires for his people to approach him in prayer. 

Let us pray!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Daniel’s Consistency

By Joanna K. Harris
Joanna Harris is an author and blogger with a tremendous passion for God.  The following blog post is an excerpt she provided from her book Grace in Time of Need.  You can contact Joanna here.  For more on Joanna’s and her ministry, check out here website here.  There you can also find links to her other blogs.

You’ve probably heard the story of Daniel and the lions’ den. A pagan king threw Daniel to the lions. God sent an angel to protect him. Daniel’s faith was rewarded, and the king acknowledged Daniel’s God as the living God (Dan. 6:26).
To me the most amazing part of this story is not the arrival of the angel, but Daniel’s response to the original crisis. The king gave an order that no one could pray to anyone but him for 30 days. Daniel could have made excuses for himself and stopped praying. He could have given in to the pressure or run away. He could have gotten angry at God. But he didn’t do any of those things.
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before (Dan. 6:10).
I imagine Daniel had been through tough situations before this. He was a Jew living in a foreign country among pagan people. Undoubtedly, he had his share of hardships and suffering. Notice what this verse says though. He went home to pray…just as he had done before. Daniel had a consistent prayer life – he spent time with God regularly. No matter what the pressure, opposition or possible punishment, he did not abandon the habit that kept him in a close fellowship with God.
Daniel’s consistency amazes me! I have no doubt it was the secret to his strong faith and powerful testimony. Joshua 1:8 says, Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. I believe Daniel lived like that, and he was clearly successful in God’s eyes.
So many times when I’m hurting, stressed out, or struggling spiritually, the last thing I feel like doing is reading my Bible or talking to God – but that is exactly what I need to do! Even if all I can do is read one verse and say “God, help me,” at least I’m trying to keep communication open with Him.
Thankfully reading the Bible every morning was such an ingrained habit for me that when my health trial started (in 2004) it wasn’t hard to continue the practice. Although some days I have to force myself to read, God often surprises me by speaking right to me through a certain verse. Even when my attitude isn’t the best, He still honors me when I seek Him. In difficult times, we need Him more desperately than ever. We need the truth from His Word, we need to tell Him what’s in our hearts, and we need to listen for His voice.
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction (Ps. 119:92). This verse sounds like the author is at home in God’s Word – it’s his delight! Do you take to God’s Word like “a duck to water”? Are you at home there? Do you find prayer a refuge or a burden?
In times of crisis, God’s Word and fellowship with Him through prayer anchor and sustain us. Without them, it’s easy to be overcome by affliction and hard times. God longs for us to be at home in His Word. He wants us to find refuge in praying to Him. We need consistency in these areas, even if we don’t always want it. Praise God, His grace is able to accomplish that in our lives, just as He did in Daniel’s.

God…gives grace to the humble (James 4:6b).