Prayer

Anxious For Nothing

peace

 

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

 

A Lord’s Day Prayer

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A Lord’s Day prayer as we head off to worship:

“We are going to the house of prayer, pour upon us the spirit of grace and supplication; We are going to the house of praise, awaken in us every grateful and cheerful emotion; We are going to the house of instruction, give testimony to the Word preached, and glorify it in the hearts of all who hear; may it enlighten the ignorant, awaken the careless, reclaim the wandering, establish the weak, comfort the feeble-minded, make ready a people for their Lord.”

Shared FromValley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Being Conformed

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“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

All of us are being conformed, the question is what are we being conformed to. It is a good thing to stop from time to time and ask ourselves this question. Daily we are all either becoming more like Christ, or we are becoming more like the world.

Not terribly long ago, I picked up the Bible for the first time in weeks or maybe months. My heart was not in a good place. My spirit was suffering. I opened my bible and began to read. I didn’t intentionally turn to Romans 12, I was just desperately seeking some encouragement so I simply opened my bible and began to read. At this point it didn’t matter, I simply needed words of life. Has anyone else ever been here?

It seems though, God knew exactly what I needed to hear. I read these 2 verses in Romans 12 and the scales that had been forming for the past few months suddenly fell from my eyes. I scribbled the following lines in my journal:

“Reading Romans 12:1-2 today. Amazed at how far I’ve fallen. What am I offering to God? Nothing. What is conforming me these days? The world. In every situation I feel like I’m doing the exact opposite of what God is asking of me. The results are obvious. My world seems to be falling apart. Lord, help me.”

And you know what? He did. How? By sending me back to his Word. By giving me once again that thirst for He and His Word. By drawing me daily into his presence through prayer.

Of course, it isn’t always easy. Nothing worth doing ever is. For me, this seems especially true when it comes to matters of faith. But the Bible never says things will be easy. Even in this short passage, it says that we must present our bodies as a “living sacrifice” and that “by testing you may discern what is the will of God…”

Most times I’d prefer not to have this testing. I like easy. But sacrifice is never easy. That’s why it’s called sacrifice. But it is through our daily offering of our bodies to God, especially through the tests of life, both big and small, that we are indeed “conformed to the image of Christ” , which Romans 8:29 tells us has been the plan all along. 

Indeed…Lord, help me.

Ordinary Saint

“…they were saints in the most effective and telling way: sanctified by leading ordinary lives in a completely supernatural manner, sanctified by obscurity, by usual skills, by common tasks, by routine, but skills, tasks, routine which received a supernatural form from grace within, and from the habitual union of their souls with God in deep faith and charity.” Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

Can this be said of us?

I want this…or maybe I don’t.

I suppose I want the spectacular. I don’t want to be ordinary.

Perhaps I should say that I want, to want this. The ordinary is the place where we learn the most about ourselves and our God. It is in the ordinary that we can truly understand how extraordinary our God really is. Perhaps this is why we long so much for the spectacular, or the extraordinary, because deep down it is really a longing for God.

May I strive to be an ‘ordinary saint’…Sanctified in obscurity.


Give us this day…Jesus

Pray then like this:
    “Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread,
    and forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation,
        but deliver us from evil.
~Matthew 6:9-13 

Over the past several months I have fallen more and more in love with what I believe is the shining jewel of Christian prayer. Many of us know it as the Lord’s Prayer. Many good and sincere Christians debate this prayer and its meaning. Are we to recite it verbatim, is Jesus simply giving us an outline of a good prayer, or just telling us essentially what prayer is to be? I think perhaps all of the above is true. We cannot go wrong if we take any of those things to heart, and pray keeping those things in mind.

As I’ve spent more and more time over the last several months praying this prayer and meditating on its meaning I’ve become convinced of this truth…And perhaps I’m slow and it is perfectly obvious to everyone else…but I have become convinced that at the heart of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is this: surrender/submission…and Jesus. Ultimately Jesus is at the heart of all things Christian, but you guys know what I mean.

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

As we say those words, what are we saying but that, “Lord we acknowledge who you are…we acknowledge your greatness…we stand in awe of your holiness, your might, your power, your beauty, your majesty…may we see that here, now, on earth…visibly and physically.” We can’t do it. As we see who God is, and meditate on that reality, we realize our utter helplessness.

“…Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

I’m struck immediately as I see the words, “Give us this day our daily bread…” by the fact that Jesus tells us time and time again that He is the ‘bread of life’ and the ‘living bread that came down from heaven’. (See John 6) So when we pray these words, yes we are praying for God to provide our needs for the day, but even deeper than that, especially deeper than that, what we are essentially praying for is Jesus. Now when I say these words, in my heart I say, “Give us Jesus…Give me Jesus.” What more do we need? What is more essential to our lives and our daily living, and our walks of faith, than Jesus? As we pray through the rest of the prayer we essentially see what Jesus does, and through the power of His Spirit, what He does through us, in us, and with us. He graciously forgives our sins, and grants us the grace to forgive others. He allows us to overcome temptations, and ultimately He delivers us from all evil…both daily and eternally.

This prayer is drawing me closer to my Savior daily. As I say this prayer and meditate on its meaning daily I am more and more in awe of God, and fall more and more in love with Jesus. I am learning about surrender. I am learning more about Jesus. Nothing is more essential and at the heart of the Christian life more than those two truths. Surrender and Jesus. Christianity in two words.

Many Christians do not recite this prayer on a regular basis…for years neither did I. I suppose some feel it is too elementary. This attitude is dangerous. Regardless of your thoughts on what the meaning is behind this prayer…”Should it be recited? Is it simply an example?” The fact is saying it, and reciting it, and most importantly meditating on its meaning is a good exercise, and one that I believe will build you up, equip you, and help you love God more. I’ve even began reciting this prayer with my oldest son each morning before school, and slowly I am trying to talk to Him about what it means. Sometimes he wants to, sometimes he doesn’t, sometimes he’s just indifferent. That’s okay. I think all of us approach prayer like that. He is learning the importance of all prayer…as am I.

There are many great Christian and theological minds out there. They have said, and observed things about this prayer, and spoken about it much more beautifully and in depth than I ever could. More than likely what I’ve said is nothing new…But perhaps as I pour out my heart as to the importance this prayer, and all it means to me and my faith…you will be encouraged and drawn to explore and meditate deeper on this prayer, and ultimately Jesus Himself..which I believe is the embodiment and ultimate fulfillment of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.



“O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go”

“O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go”

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Amen.

George Matheson, 1882

He Really Satisfies!

“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 ESV

Paul says in these three verses that he has learned to be content in whatever situation, and in every circumstance…Whether things are going great, or whether times are pretty slim. Paul says he is just fine, he is content. As I read these words, a sobering thought came to mind:

“I pretty much suck at both of those.”

When things are going great, when I have plenty, when life just doesn’t seem like it can get much better, I get prideful. My mind tends to wander from God. Even in my Spiritual life, it seems that even while I am focusing on God, there is a very strong ‘me’ element that I am seeking to show off. “Look how blessed I am! Look how much I love the Lord! Check out how awesome my life is!” You get the picture. When God is blessing me, and seems to be showing me favor in a supernatural way…I can’t help but want to tell the world. This in itself isn’t bad…except for most times I think I am doing it in order to puff myself up, rather than to glorify God. Basically I suck at ‘abounding’.

When things aren’t going so great, and the past few weeks in all honesty have been great at pointing this out, I suck equally. When life just seems pretty cruddy, I get upset, angry, down in the dumps, just all in all unpleasant. I wouldn’t say I get angry at God, but I do get upset and annoyed at the situation. Whoever seems to be giving me the most problems, or standing in the way of my perceived ‘happy life’ is generally the target of my annoyance and sometimes anger. I pray…This is the best thing to do, but generally I think the prayers are misguided. It’s either for God to make my circumstances better, or to remove obstacles, so that I can get back to focusing on Him. Maybe I don’t even word it like that, but in my heart, you know the place that God can see anyway, I think that is what I’m thinking.

So basically, yeah, I suck at both being brought low, and abounding. Why? What does this mean? What is God trying to tell me?

Well, the why is easy. I’m a dirty, rotten, no good sinner, who is focused too much on himself. What does this mean? What is God trying to tell me? Well I think those two questions have the same answer. I need to be focused on Christ more. You see, Philippians 4:13 is such a misquoted, so often, taken out of context verse. The point of, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” isn’t that God is going to bless whatever we do, or will enable us to do anything we want…The point is being content in Christ. Knowing that wherever God has you, be content, knowing that where God has you at that moment is the place where He wants you to glorify Him. When things are going great and can’t get much better…Give God the glory and the praise. Understand that is all by the grace of God that you are where you are, and it could change at any moment. When things are tough, like they so often are…Give God the glory and the praise knowing that this is an opportunity to show people how awesome, and mighty our God is. Look for what God might be doing in that situation. Use that situation bless someone by showing them how even in the midst of trial our God reigns. Even when things are bad, Jesus is still on the throne. Whether you are rich, poor, healthy, sick, happy, or sad, God is still good, and Jesus is still Lord. In all of these circumstances we are called to obedience, and we are called to give Him the praise. I know this is much easier said than done…As my life and my deeds show.

It still doesn’t take away from the truth. Our source of everything is Jesus Christ. Do you know why Paul could be content in any situation? It was simply because He was a man saturated with and by Christ. The entire focus of Paul’s life and ministry was Christ. We are not given a calling that is any different. We must be, and we can be just as Christ centered, just as Christ saturated, as was the Apostle Paul. The same Holy Spirit that dwelt in him dwells in us…The same Holy Spirit that called Him to serve Christ is the one that has called us to do the same.

My problem, and your problem, isn’t that we need a life change, or a change in our circumstances…Our problem is that we need to be looking to Jesus.

Have mercy on me Lord, for I am indeed a great sinner….Help me to see you Jesus as you truly are, all sufficient and all satisfying. In the name of Christ I ask….Amen.