Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to Pray

How to Pray
March 28, 2011
Matthew 6:9 "'This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. . .'"

A lot can be said about the subject of prayer. As Christians, we know it is supposed to be part of our intimate communication with God, but seldom do we use it correctly. In fact, most of us still use prayer to send God a 'Christmas wish list', telling Him all that He can deliver. We get in a solemn mindset and earnestly ask God to give us all that we desire. We even use the excuse that the Bible says if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He WILL give us the desires of our hearts (Ps 37:4). But there is another writer in the Bible, James, who cautions us in asking for what we want. He says, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." I know I have been guilty of this on many occasions. It gets confusing, then, in knowing what we are and are not allowed to ask of God.

Jesus gives us a clear example of how to pray, but seldom is it preached upon or understood correctly. We've all heard what is known as "The Lord's Prayer." It starts out with the familiar words, "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name..." You may read it fully in Matthew chapter six. This prayer was given to us as an example to follow, by Jesus, in order that we might understand what we should and should not ask for. Jesus didn't give us this prayer to simply repeat, over and over, like many churches do today. He gave it to us as a model, to guide our hearts and minds, leading us into effective prayer. If we simply repeat Jesus' prayer over and over again, without our hearts understanding it, it is a waste of breath. Please consider this understanding of the Lord's Prayer:

"Our Father, in Heaven, hallowed be your name." This is a salutation for us to understand that God is supreme and sovereign. We are to approach Him like a child, in sincerity of heart but deep respect. God is not our peer and we are not to be flippant in our prayers.

"Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven." We are to pray for God to come back to the earth soon, for the time when God brings Heaven down and sets up His domain here among us. We are to pray that God's will would be done in each and every situation, just as He has declared it in Heaven and the inhabitants of Heaven carry it out in perfect obedience. God's desire is that we submit ourselves to His will, which would accomplish His agenda in our lives today. It has already been determined in His Heavenly mind; it is our opportunity to come into this realization in our own minds. Pray that God illuminates this for your lives.

"Give us today, our daily bread." This offers clarity to what James was talking about in James 4:3. Technically, all we need is for God to take care of our needs today. We don't need tomorrow's provision today. We don't need excess so we can live an extravagant lifestyle. We aren't even supposed to ask for this. If God gives us physical blessings, then so be it (and be thankful), but we should set our hearts only on what we need to take care of us today. It creates a dependency upon God if we ask Him only for the needs in front of us. Notice Jesus didn't give us the example of asking for a daily feast. This separates "needs" from "wants". Most of what we pray for is a "want" and not truly needed.

"And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." Jesus had a distinct verbiage in this passage. He is telling us that we should already have forgiven others in our hearts before we come to God in prayer. Jesus did not recommend coming to God in prayer, asking for forgiveness, when we harbor resentment toward others. He suggests taking care of our bitterness with others, before petitioning God for anything. After all, why would we dare ask God to be benevolent toward us if we are not benevolent toward others? But most certainly, forgive others and come to God expecting His forgiveness. Jesus even reinforces this a few verses after this prayer, found in Matthew 6:14-15.

"And lead us not into temptation." The Bible is very clear that God is not the tempter of any man and will provide a way out in the midst of temptation. We are all tempted to sin; most of the time we are aware of our desire or compulsion to sin before we even do it. This is a prayer for God to help us avoid giving in to our own temptations. If we sin, we are also aware of the option NOT to sin at the same moment. It takes a strong man to avoid giving in to temptation. Don't be shy in asking God for that added strength on a daily basis. Jesus knew you and I would be tempted and He wanted us to be aware of it as well.

"But deliver us from the evil one." This part of our prayer life has several distinctions. It is included in the same sentence as "temptation", as Jesus knew Satan would be hard at work tempting us. But we are also under attack from Satan for so many other things. Pray for God to keep you safe, for the protection of your children, for the security of your emotional, mental, physical, AND spiritual health.

One final thought on the Lord's Prayer. Jesus used the word "us" instead of the word "me" throughout the entirety of the prayer. It is to convince us to pray for ourselves AND for others. Constantly be in prayer about all these things, for yourself and for your fellow man.

1. What do your prayers typically look like?
2. How often do you pray for others?
3. How could you change the structure of your prayers to come into line with the example given by Jesus?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Matthew 6, 1 Cor 10:13, James 4:2-4

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Traits of a Leader, Part II of II

The Traits of a Leader, Part II of II
March 21, 2011
Numbers 11:28 "Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth. . ."

You've heard the expression before, "natural born leader," suggesting someone was simply born to lead other people. While this might rightly be so, a leader still must hone his leadership skills. Just because someone is born with natural leadership aptitude does not mean he should start out by leading. It takes years and years of maturity before a person with the greatest of leadership aptitude should actually lead. This was the case with Joshua and he submitted to that. Joshua was destined to lead; God ordained it, but Joshua recognized when and where his leadership should begin. Joshua's leadership did not start until the Lord gave him the position; until then, Joshua was someone else's sidekick.

That's right, Joshua, though he was destined to lead the nation of Israel, was Moses' aide. He stayed by Moses' side almost 100% of the time. Joshua was submitted to the current leader and did not attempt to usurp him; instead, he learned from him. Joshua learned how to be a leader, how to be a humble leader of millions by watching and staying by Moses' side. He served the current leader and did not try to lead anyone. True leaders know how to submit to a higher authority, especially if that authority is instituted by God. Being in submission to someone else keeps a person in check. This willingness to submit suggests a leader can submit to God as well, especially if he is a born leader.

Joshua was aware of needing to submit, even though he was a born leader. Joshua submitted to Moses before God put him in charge and Joshua submitted to God after Moses passed away. Even though he was put into a leadership position, Joshua still recognized who was truly in charge--God. This ability to submit comes in real handy if caught between a rock and a hard place; it allows the Lord to demonstrate who is really leading. For Joshua this was proved at the famous Battle of Jericho.

Recall the story, Jericho was a fortified city with walls towering above it. To penetrate the walls or scale them was nearly impossible. But God was determined to show everyone who was in charge and that nothing is impossible for God. God told the armies of Israel to march around the city walls and then blow their trumpets. It was an absurd military tactic, sure to be rebuffed by even the most seasoned military leader. But Joshua, following the Lord, communicated to the army that this was the best option for success. Joshua, though leading an entire nation at the time, submitted to God's crazy plan for success. Joshua had to explain the silly battle plan to the people, from his position as leader, and rally behind God no matter how unique the experience or what other people might say.

Being a leader does not mean you get to decide and create your own battle plans; it means you can submit to God and lead others to do the same. That's all that Joshua did. Joshua led others by following God. A true leader recognizes who is really in charge and submits to that. In Joshua's case, he submitted to God despite having to lead the Israelites into unique circumstances that did not make sense at the time. But a true leader isn't afraid to do this, to submit to God and lead others to do the same no matter how unique or irrational the directive seems. This is what made Joshua an amazing leader, his submission to the Lord and wholeheartedly convincing others to do the same.

1. As a leader, to whom do you submit?
2. As a leader, do you make your own battle plans or submit to God's?
3. As a leader, do you rally others to follow the Lord's directions or to follow your own directions?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Num 12:3, Josh 1:1-9, Josh 4:14, Josh 5:14-15, Josh 6

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Traits of a Leader, Part I of II

The Traits of a Leader, Part I of II
March 14, 2011
Numbers 13:30 "'. . . We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.'"

There are quite a few great examples of some amazing leaders in the Bible. If we study these leaders, we can learn a few things that could transfer over into our own lives, empowering us in the place the Lord has set for us. One such leader in the Bible that we should learn to emulate is Joshua. Joshua was the great leader of the Israelites, who came into his position when Moses passed away. He is most famous for leading the Battle of Jericho, when the Israelites marched around the city walls shouting and sounding their trumpets. But before Joshua was a leader, he was something else. Joshua was an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur can be defined as one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risk for an activity or enterprise.

When you think of the word entrepreneur, you might instantly think of a risk-taker. You would be right in doing so. Entrepreneurs, by nature, have the ability to think ahead not matter what the cost, envision something for the future, dream about the possibilities. Entrepreneurs are usually visionaries, imagining a future that does not exist but requires a trail to be blazed. Joshua had these qualities. If you read about Joshua, starting in Numbers 13, you find him among a party of explorers sent out to spy on the land of the Canaanites. Upon their return, all of them had a negative report about the future possibilities in Canaan, except for Caleb and Joshua. In fact, listen to what Joshua had to say about the future possibilities (and when you do, listen for the word entrepreneur or visionary and risk-taker):
"'The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.'"

Joshua was ready to move forward into an unknown future, taking on the great risk of defeating the current inhabitants of the land. To move forward required a new trail to be blazed through uncertain and endless possibilities. Nonetheless, Joshua spoke the words in confidence. He didn't say these words because he was told by God in a dream to say them. He spoke boldly of an unknown future because he was an entrepreneur. When you couple entrepreneurship with faith in God, you can understand why Joshua might speak up to the whole of the Israelites (when hundreds of thousands of Israelites wanted to stone him for it--read it for yourself in Numbers 14).

You may think an entrepreneur is limited to the business world, but I would submit to you that every judge, prophet, apostle, or Christian in the Bible was an entrepreneur. Throughout the entirety of the Bible, every one of them blazed a trail that had never been imagined before, assuming the risk of even their lives. Most of them blazed their trail in the face of adversity or among people who were afraid or even wanted to kill them for their ideas. But the entrepreneurs had faith that it would work out. In fact, the very nature of an entrepreneur requires faith, hope in a future that does not yet exist. This is also the very thing that pleases the Lord the most, faith. You cannot please God without faith; therefore, if you possess faith, you do have an entrepreneurial spirit inside you. Don't be afraid to step out in faith, especially if it requires a new trail to be blazed. Your entrepreneurship, if coupled with your Christianity, will please the Lord as great faith.

Most leaders, whether they are leading a Fortune 100 company or a church of 100 people, must envision a risky future and march toward it boldly. If they don't, eventually the leader will have nothing to lead and consequently nowhere to go. Leaders don't simply walk in circles or on paths already taken; followers can do that on their own. Followers need a leader who can take them places they have never even imagined. Joshua was just that person, a visionary who was excited about an unknown future and spoke boldly about it because of his faith in the Lord. Incidentally, the other men sent to spy out the land with Caleb and Joshua, who didn't have that same entrepreneurial spirit, were struck down by the Lord (Num 14:37).

1. What trail have you been thinking about blazing?
2. Are you afraid or is your faith in the Lord strong?
3. How can you allow your Christian faith to give you boldness for an unknown future?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Numbers 13-15, Heb 11:6

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rain, Rainbows & Promises

Rain, Rainbows & Promises
March 7, 2011
Genesis 9:13 "'I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.'"

Prior to the great flood, that Noah was able to avoid by traveling in the giant Ark, it had never rained. You know the story. As strange as it sounds, rain had never fallen from the sky to water the earth. Then God changed the order of things when He allowed the great flood that brought judgment on all the inhabitants of the earth (except for Noah and his family). God changed the natural process for His creation, rain would now fall from the sky. And rain, it did. Clouds covered the earth and it rained for 40 days. It must have been a very ominous sight for the earth's inhabitants, even those in the Ark, seeing rain for the very first time. Imagine the fear it must have created.

But God didn't let it rain forever; He stopped the flood waters that were falling from the sky. When the rain subsided and Noah came out of the Ark, Noah saw something else the earth had never seen before - a rainbow. The scientific explanation of a rainbow is rather simple; it is created when falling droplets of water pass through the sun's rays, reflecting the light, leaving an arc of colors (like a prism). The new rain naturally caused the new phenomenon of a rainbow. But listen to what God said about the rainbow:
"'I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.'"

God used the rainbow as a symbol of His covenant with us, promising that the earth would never be destroyed by rain ever again. But Noah didn't need the rainbow as such a covenant, to know he would not be destroyed. Noah was saved from the judgment; he wasn't afraid of God destroying him. God's covenant was necessary for future generations. Noah had the Ark; in theory, he could climb inside and avoid another flood. But God knew the temptation of a man to trust in physical things. God did not want Noah to live in the sort of fear where he needed to stay close to the Ark every time it rained. God wanted Noah to be blessed and live a fruitful life. God wanted Noah to live with the peace in his heart that it was safe to live a life free from past fears. Noah needed to know it was safe to leave the Ark forever, to leave the past in order to have a future, to know every time it rained he didn't need to jump in the boat.

God wants that same peace for you and me, too. He wants us to have peace in our hearts knowing it is safe to live a life free from the fear of past events. God wanted Noah to understand that the fear of the flood should be in the past. Just as God delivered Noah, God has delivered you and me from so many things; I know you can recall certain events you never wish to have repeated in your future. Remember those times, but only as a testament to what God did for you when He delivered you from them. Don't let your past create fear for your future. Don't live each new day with the fear of what might happen. If you do, you will never leave the "Ark." Noah didn't live a life of fruitfulness and blessing by staying in the Ark. He left the past (the Ark) and did not live in fear of his future.

The rainbow was a promise of hope for Noah. Ask God to give you such a promise today. Open His Scriptures; I know there is a promise in there for you. Leave the "Ark" behind and trust God for an amazing future.

1. What are your fears from your past?
2. How are those fears affecting your future?
3. How can you trust the Lord to help you avoid the fear of the past?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Gen 7 - 9, Ps 32:8, Ps 121:7-8, Pr 8:17, Is 30:18, Is 42:16, Is 54:10, Matt 11:28, Lk 18:27, John 10:27-28, John 16:33, 2 Cor 9:8, Phil 4:19, 2 Peter 1:3-10, 1 John 2:25, 1 John 5:14