Prayer

Your Relationship With God

relationship

God desires to have a relationship with you. God loves you, and so desires to be in a relationship with you that he sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for you and to make it possible. (John 3:16, Romans 5:6) I could write pages upon page about the lengths that God went to in order to draw you into a relationship with him, but that isn’t why I’m writing this. My purpose for writing today is that I want to pause and contemplate the unbelievable reality that the God of the universe desires a relationship with you and to think through the implications of that truth.

I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “Christianity isn’t a religion it’s a relationship.” Normally that statement makes me cringe because I believe it to be too simplistic. That being said, there is an element of truth there that we would be wise to take notice of. Christianity is indeed a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and since it is a relationship there are some things that we need to understand.

Relationships take work. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship understands this. It doesn’t matter if you are speaking of romantic relationships, parent/child relationships, friendships, or work relationships, it takes work. If you want a relationship to work you have to put in time and effort. If this is true of human relationships, why would we think it isn’t also true of our relationship with God?

How often do you talk to God? How often do you take time to listen for what God might be trying to tell you? Do you make time to just be in the presence of God? Do you enjoy being with him? Do you want to get to know him better? What are you doing to try to make this happen? What do you hope to get out of your relationship with God? And here is a big one: Do you love God simply for who he is, or because of what you hope he can give you?

How successful will a marriage be if there is no communication? Not very. If children aren’t listening to their parents, or speaking to them, that relationship is in trouble. How happy would a wife be if her husband never came home? Husbands would be crushed if their wives never wanted to spend time with them. When couples begin dating, they do everything they can to learn what the other person enjoys. The parent is hurt when their child only calls when they need something, and not just so say “I love you.”

It’s not hard to see the parallels that I’m making here. It’s easy to see the correlation between what makes human relationships work and what we ought to be doing to cultivate our relationship with God. If we aren’t spending time in prayer communicating with God, if we aren’t spending time in his presence and listening for him, and learning more about him as we spend time in the Bible, then our relationship with God will suffer. Are your prayers always about what you can get from God instead of simply praising God for who he is? Do you ever simply tell God you love him? Do you thank him for the many blessings he has given you?

The wonderful thing about God is that he takes the initiative in our relationship with him. He made the first move, and even in spite of our failures to do what it is we should be doing, if we have truly entered into a relationship with him, he won’t ever let go of us. He loves us in spite of our many failures. But this isn’t an excuse to try less, it is motivation to try harder to love a God who has loved us so much. Even though we can rest assured that God will never turn his back on us, we are robbing ourselves of so much joy by not seeking him as we should. If you are missing time in prayer or bible study, you are missing more pleasure than you can imagine. If you are neglecting times of worship, both personal and corporate, you are missing one of the greatest blessings the Christian life has to offer and your growth in grace is suffering.

All relationships take work and must be intentional, I think we all know this. We also know that successful healthy relationships are a beautiful thing, and are worth every ounce of effort we put into them. This is infinitely true as it relates to our relationship with God, for there is no greater joy, no greater pleasure, and no more beautiful relationship than this. There is no one more worthy of your love and affection, and certainly no one more worthy of the effort you’ll put in.

You’ll never give God more than he’s already given you.

Back to Seminary after the first of the year, here’s one way you can help!

I will be headed back to seminary again after the first of the year, and as always funds are a concern. This might be a reach, but if you guys have any Amazon gift cards, or are planning on doing any shopping on Amazon it’d really help me out if you’d use this link. You can simply click on it and bookmark it, then use it for all of your Amazon shopping. I’m an Amazon affiliate, which basically means if you buy something through one of my links, I’ll get a few pennies for every dollar you spend. So, if you plan on using Amazon anyway, I’d appreciate you using this link. It won’t cost you anything extra, and It would really help me out.

Thanks for your help, and especially your prayers!

Don’t Waste Your Sleeplessness

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Last night was my wife’s first night back to work after being out of work for maternity leave. We now have six kids, so I have to confess that I was rather nervous. One would think that after doing this several times it would get easier, but actually it gets more difficult each time. Taking care of an almost 3 month old in addition to 5 other kids is no easy task, so I think my anxiety was somewhat justified.One of the things I was worried about was the thought that the baby probably wouldn’t sleep so well with mama not being around. Our last kid had this very issue up until she was over a year old. I spent many nights up with her while sending my wife not so nice text messages throughout the night. Being tired and needing sleep through the night is one thing, its a whole different animal the next day when you have other little ones needing to be fed, diapered, chased, and loved. Tired daddies are usually grumpy daddies, and unfortunately I am often a good example of this.

Last night though, the baby slept quite well. I on the other hand did not. I’m not quite sure, but perhaps it had to do with that anxiety I just mentioned. I kept listening for every little peep, hoping I wouldn’t hear anything, yet getting nervous when I didn’t. It was a no win for me and sleep last night.

Finally, about 3:30 AM the baby decided to give me something to do and woke up to be fed. As I was sitting there feeding him and wondering if I would be able to make myself sleepy it hit me…”Tonight would’ve been a really good night to spend the night in prayer.”

Usually when I have these sleepless nights I just spend the night doing everything I can think of to make myself sleepy. I suppose there are times where this might be the best course of action. But maybe those sleepless nights, for whatever reason they are sleepless, might be great nights to spend some extra quiet time with God. In our hectic and busy world quiet time isn’t that easy to come by…Maybe those long nights as opposed to being annoyances are actually God’s gracious provision and an invitation into his presence. The Apostle Paul urges us to “pray without ceasing”…I have to confess, I’ve never been very good at this. As one who enjoys and feels called to tell others and preach about Jesus, I’d like to say that my prayer life is an example to others. The fact is, I can’t say that. I sometimes struggle in prayer. Sure I go through seasons of intense prayer…but I also go through times when I get so bogged down in life that prayer gets neglected. I think many of us go through similar periods. Prayer must be a priority in the life of the Christian. A healthy prayer life is a necessity for a healthy Christian. I think this explains my periodic spiritual anemia.

Early this AM however I was given a divine appointment with the Great Physician. I had sweet fellowship with the Lord as I meditated on Psalm 32. As opposed to dragging first thing this morning, being tired and grumpy…My heart is full. It appears my sleepless night was just what my soul needed. I think Jesus knew what He was doing when he himself spent many nights and early mornings alone in prayer while others were sleeping.

Perhaps the next time something is keeping you up, instead of begrudging the sleeplessness, you should see it as an invitation to the throne of grace. Yes, in Christ we have an open invitation…but every now and again, I think we need a reminder. Perhaps that’s what these nights are for. Just a thought.

Now I need a nap.

Praying Through the Desert – Jana Greene

I’m so excited to have one of my favorite writers guest blogging for me today. Her name is Jana Greene and she blogs over at The Beggars Bakery. Jana is also the author of Edgewise: plunging off of the brink of drink and into the love of God. Be sure to check out both her blog and book. You won’t be sorry!

vegas prayer

How do you get out of the spiritual desert? You build a huge, blinking distraction to it.

Or, you can just walk through it, and fully expect God to bring you to the other side.

About eight years ago, I went to Las Vegas on a business trip. The long and short of it was that I had a mini-nervous breakdown.

My colleagues and I stayed in the Luxor – a magnificent pyramid structure on the Vegas strip, smack dab (as we say in the South) in the heart of Sin City. Although there were seminars by day, there were too many hours of free time after the nine-to-five activities.

I don’t always do that well with too much free time.

Vegas is not so much fun for a person in alcohol – or any other, so far as I can tell – recovery. Moment after moment, fleshly appetizers are placed before you. In-your-face, 24/7 sex, drugs, drink, gambling, smoking. Even things that had never tempted me before – such as the gambling – became this enormous tease.

I knew that Vegas was not for me before the plane even touched down. If you’ve ever flown over Las Vegas, you will know what I mean. Here is a visual synopsis of the view from the plane.

Hours of flight over sandy canyons, gorges, and deserts. Everything is some shade of brown– nothing, nothing, nothing, hours of nothing– barren brown, tan and beige. Nothing.

BAM! Super incredibly bright neon, see-it-from-outer space, larger-than life and twice as gaudy, Technicolor VEGAS, Baby! The strip is, quite literally, just a strip that – from the air – looks as though the heavens barfed forth a city-sized strip of neon, glitter, and a strange, Disney-like conglomeration of architectural/cultural mess. Pastel medieval castles, next door to Greco-Roman-columned casinos, next door to the great pyramids, next door to a shrunken New York City entwined by a roller coaster, punctuated by liquor and nudie bars.

It is the anti-nature, if you will.

Before even the first rah-rah corporate event, I was burned out. Too much to see. Everything in sight vying for my attention – and so, none of it really getting my attention. The first night, I stayed in the hotel room and cried while everyone else went out and had Vegas adventures. And I couldn’t stop crying.

Every morning, for privacy, I wandered down to a café in the Luxor, and call my (then) fiancé, a grown woman crying in an enormous, cartoonish pyramid, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people and utterly alone.

“I can’t be here,” I told him. “It’s too noisy. Too much temptation. Too many drunk and high people…so much gambling, porn everywhere…. too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. I have to come home.”

It didn’t upset me because I believed I would never do such things, but because I know good and damn well that I could – given the right circumstances and a weak moment – and, in fact, have. I try to respect the parameters – the slippery slopes. And Vegas is a very slippery slope.

Each day, I became more and more depressed, the thin veneer of sanity cracking under the weight of trying to appear all the things I was not: Professional, immune to the temptations, and able to cope.

Where I live at home, the Ocean is a scant 10 minutes away, and the Cape Fear River 10 minutes in the other direction. Water, water everywhere. And people I love.

Of course, I survived it – and as a bonus, with my sobriety intact. When I finally, got home, it didn’t seem like such an ordeal. But during the experience, I was miserable.

For the last month or so, I have really been struggling with prayer. Not just having a desert-like prayer life, but a Vegas-like prayer life. Unwittingly, I’ve filled up a dry-spell with diversions to distract my spirit. Sensory overload is not the same as spirit satiation. What happens in my prayer life lately…..it goes nowhere. Or so it seems.

Praying…. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

BAM! Diversion!

But anything but Holy Spirit in a hurting soul is not an oasis….only a mirage.

Sometimes, my spiritual walk becomes about too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. A grown woman crying in church, surrounded by dozens of happy worshippers. Everyone else seemingly bloated with happiness. Don’t they see the barren dryness?

Aridness…brown, tan and beige. So I build great, giant cities – big, awkward pastel and neon structures of distraction, instead of just walking through the desert – exhausted from trying to pretend to be what I am not: A “professional Christian.” Immune to the temptations. Able to cope.

I don’t always do that well when I have too much time, but I know the God of the Universe always makes time for me. I have to come home, and the only route is through the desert.

It’s hard to encounter God, what with the gaudy, neon monuments to my worries and anxieties blinking. Why don’t I remember that in the “uninhabitable” – He inhabits? He dwells in me always, vying for my attention.

And if I am simply willing to just walk through the desert?

BAM! God. Living water, water everywhere. Deserts can’t go on forever.

But the love of my Father does.

 

In Prayer

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O LORD,

In prayer I launch far out into the eternal world, and on that broad ocean my soul triumphs over all evils on the shores of mortality. Time with its gay amusements and cruel disappointments, never appears so inconsiderate as then.

In prayer I see myself as nothing; I find my heart going after thee with intensity, and long with vehement thirst to live to thee. Blessed be the strong gales of the Spirit that speed me on my way to the New Jerusalem.

In prayer all things here below vanish, and nothing seems important but holiness of heart and the salvation of others.

In prayer all my worldly cares, fears, anxieties disappear, and are of as little significance as a puff of wind.

In prayer my soul inwardly exults with lively thoughts at what thou art doing for thy church, and I long that thou shouldest get thyself a great name from sinners returning to Zion.

In prayer I am lifted above the frowns and flatteries of life, and taste heavenly joys; entering into the eternal world I can give myself to thee with all my heart, to be thine forever.

In prayer I can place all my concerns in thy hands, to be entirely at thy disposal, having no will or interest of my own.

In prayer I can intercede for my friends, ministers, sinners, the church, thy kingdom to come, with greatest freedom, ardent hopes, as a son to his father, as a lover to the beloved.

Help me to be all prayer and never to cease praying.

Quoted From: Valley of Vision : A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Anxious For Nothing

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Anxiety. Worry. Stress.

There are several words to describe these feelings that so many of us are so accustomed to. Life is hard. We all face circumstances in which we are uncertain. Our troubles in this world are not few. Worry is only natural, right?

Well, Scripture doesn’t seem to think so. Paul says in Philippians 4:6,“…do not be anxious for anything.” Jesus too, in Matthew 6:25 says, “…do not be anxious about your life.” Then again in verse 34 he says, “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself, sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” I’m not sure about you, but at first glance verse 34 isn’t all that comforting. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, things are fine. Trouble is a thing of the past…Life is smooth sailing from now on guys.” No, Jesus doesn’t deny the reality of trouble and suffering, yet he still tells us not to be anxious.

So, how can he say this?

As I’ve been mulling this question over in my mind the past few days, my mind goes back to the beginning of Matthew 6. I think prayer is the key. As Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, the first two verses of the Lord’s prayer goes like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I believe our peace of mind is rooted in these two verses. We have a sovereign God who rules the universe. Nothing happens to us that doesn’t pass through his almighty fingers. I used to read these two verses as if they were simply a petition, “Our Father, may your name be hallowed…may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” But the more I think about it, I believe these verses are more a statement of fact. The only reason we can finish out the Lord’s prayer, the only reason we can pray at all is because the will of God is indeed done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Sometimes it’s hard to see this. Sometimes we can’t figure out what God is doing. Still, the Bible assures us that God always has our best interests at heart. (Romans 8:28) When we see things from this perspective, we can indeed rest in the promises of God…We can cease our worries and put away our anxiousness.

I suppose though, the question becomes, how can we keep this perspective? How can we keep our mind focused firmly on these promises? I believe the key is prayer. Like I said, Matthew 6:34 is only possible in light of Matthew 6:9-10. In much the same way, in Philippians 4:6, when Paul says,“…do not be anxious about anything…” he follows up that statement by telling us to pray, “...but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Our peace of mind comes from our knowledge that we have a good God who is sovereign over all. Many times in life we loose this perspective, this is why prayer is so key. If we continually are seeking God in prayer, we will be continually reminded of who God is. As we pray the words of Jesus from the Lord’s prayer, we remember that indeed our God is sovereign, and in total control. Therefore his name is worthy to be praised.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation…” Psalm 42:5

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

 

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