Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jesus' Advice on Prayer

There are some passages in Scripture that are widely known. In fact, some non-Christians can even quote a few of them without batting an eye. The Lord's Prayer is one of those passages. It's quoted in movies (think about every sports movie locker room scene before the big game), memorized by children, said in unison in get the point.

Do you ever fast forward in a good movie to get to your favorite scene? Or skip to your favorite song on your iPod instead of waiting until it pops up on your playlist? I think I do that when I read the Bible too. I rush through reading the verses before and after my favorite passages...or just the passages I know well.

For example, read Matthew 6:5-8, the verses leading up to the Lord's Prayer. He completely lays out for us how we should pray - yet so many times, we look over Jesus' powerful advice.

"And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him." (NKJV)

Prayer isn't about getting the spotlight. It's about intimate fellowship with God. Think about those late night conversations that you have with your roommate. Chances are, you wouldn't want those broadcast to the world. That is how you should view your prayer life. Prayer is a way to come before God - no hide and seek, no masks - just you as you are - before your Savior. The passage speaks about the hypocrites praying with the intention of attention. Sure, they get their reward of being labeled "prayer warriors." But they are given that label by men - NOT by God. The man who prays in private is rewarded by God Himself. Let's stop a minute to think about this. Would you rather have an ordinary person or a King show up with a present at your house? Umm...I'm gonna go with King on this one. Rewards of this world are meaningless - they break, they go out of style, whatever. God's rewards are eternal - they never end.

Don't pray on autopilot. Communicate the words of your heart to God. Sure the "God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Amen!" prayer is fine when you're three, but have you really moved past that? Do you find yourself saying the same things over and over to God? "I'm sorry for my sins." "Thank you for everything you've given me." "Be with me in all that I do today." "Help me on my test." "Make that really cute guy in Algebra talk to me again." Wow, that's deep. (Sorry, sarcasm is my spiritual gag gift.) What do you think you should say instead? Take the apology for sin, and be more specific. What about, "Father, I'm sorry that I gossiped today. Forgive me, and give me strength to ask for her forgiveness as well. Lord, I ask that you would not let me be tempted to gossip in the future. Keep me pure of mind, mouth, and heart." Is that a little more meaningful to God than a vague phrase? Don't short-change the One who gave up everything for you, and be genuine.

You can't fool Him. God knows your sins, needs, wants, hopes, fears, desires, etc. before you even tell Him. Other than because it's the right thing to do, what is the number one reason for being completely real before God? HE KNOWS ANYWAY! You can't keep secrets from God. He sees everything, knows everything, hears's pointless to try and act like you're something you're not. Don't put up a front. Don't act like everything is fine when it's not. Don't pretend like you haven't done anything wrong when you've sinned. Don't try to be tough when you need help. That's why He's there.

He is the Ultimate Helper, Best Friend, Listener, King, and Daddy. From an experienced shopper, I can tell you...that's a package deal.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Soverign Slaves

Romans 6:16-18

"Do you not know that when you present yourself to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."

I'm the first to admit that being a slave is not my favorite picture of my relationship with Christ. I much prefer seeing God on His throne and envisioning my princess crown as His child. So can I just forget that I am a slave and focus on being God's little princess?

NO. I can't because I'm constantly reminded of WHY I am a princess. It's not because of anything I did, but simply because of who my Father is. I owe everything to Him because I am nothing without Him.

We have the choice to be a slave to sin. Think back to before you became a Christian. Maybe you were really young. Maybe you're still trying to figure out what being a Christian means. But think about this - before you are saved, you are enslaved to sin. Do you know what enslaved means? You're contained. You're doomed. You're held captive.

For example, think about that girl in one of your classes who is mixed up in a really bad relationship with her boyfriend. Maybe he flirts with other girls in front of her, or he puts her down in front of others. Maybe he is even physically abusive. But she can't leave because she "loves him." Sound familiar?

That's the same hold that sin has on non-believers. Sin has nothing for you but pain and death. Yet people trick themselves into thinking they can't stop sin because they "love" it. Love drinking and partying with your parents. Love disrespecting your parents. Love getting good grades so much....even if it means cheating on a test. But can you be enslaved to sin and be God's princess?

If you choose to accept a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you are obligated to be a slave of righteousness. Think back to our little picture of the trapped girl in the abusive relationship. Being a slave of righteousness has the same concept - except it means that we are unable to do the wrong thing without guilt.

Romans 6:14 says, "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace." We are under God's grace...and under His authority. You know that little voice inside your head that starts talking when you're about to do something that you shouldn't do? That's God, your Master, talking. Once you accept Christ as your Savior, you inherit this ability to know right from wrong. As His child, you should feel just as trapped to serve Him by behaving righteously as unbelievers feel bound in their sin.

Being a slave of righteousness has benefits too. If sin leads to death, what do we get if as slaves of righteousness? Examine Romans 6:21-23 - "Therefore, what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? (He's talking about sin.) For the outcome of these things is death. (Told ya! Now pay attention, here's where it gets good!) But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome eternal life. (And just in case you missed it - He tells you one more time!) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Yes, I know that sanctification is a big word - but it means being made holy. It's through the process of santification, we become more and more like Christ. Since He's perfect, I'd say that's a pretty good deal! Then, on top of that, instead of death, we get eternal life in heaven! All of the sudden, being a slave doesn't seem so bad.

Bottom line - you're a slave either way. I know you don't like to think of yourself as a slave - I don't either. But we aren't given a third option in Scripture. We are either enslaved to sin or enslaved to righteousness. Basically, you either let Satan be your master or you let God be in control of your life. No one can make that decision but you.

Set some time aside today for you and your Master. Ask the Lord to help you to become more enslaved to His rightouesness everyday. Just remember - the more you are enslaved to God, the better princess you'll be.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Prayer Wimp vs. Prayer Warrior

I've never been one to be at a loss for words. All of those quotes like, "she can talk to a brick wall..and probably get it to talk back" have been said to me. I try to make friends wherever I go, whether that be the barista at Starbucks or the woman running on the treadmill next to me at the gym. Talking to total strangers is always an adventure.

That being said, would you find it funny that I used to have a problem communicating with God? I mean, here I am chatting it up with the guy who's making my X-tra Hot Grande Non-fat Sugar-Free Cinnamon Dulce Latte (yeah, yeah, the ultimate "diva drink," I know!) and I don't know what to say to the One to knows me better and loves me more than anyone. You do the math - it doesn't make sense.

But it's true! I mean, what can I say to Him that He doesn't already know? Isn't he too busy with things that really matter to spend time listening to me go on about my life? Is there a time that's more convenient for Him? Do I need to make an appointment? Does he understand little words, or do I have to use big ones? These were all things that were very confusing to me. I was undoubtably a prayer wimp - infact, I may have even been the best prayer wimp. (Not that it's anything to brag about, but when you're as ridiculously competitive as I am, if you're going to be bad at something, in some warped way, it's better to be worse than everyone else.)

But I'm NOT a wimp, so I refused to let my prayer life label me as one. I began asking prayer warriors for their advice. Mostly, I got some kind of response that resembled: "I just pray." Okay, so that's like Mariah Carey saying, "I just sing." That doesn't help me any! Or did it? Because in order to leave my prayer wimp status, I decided to take their advice...and just pray. Slowly, I am learning the difference between prayer wimps and prayer warriors.

* Prayer WIMPS are spontaneous with their prayers, while Prayer WARRIORS are intentional in their prayer life. Choose a specific place to pray away from distractions so you can concentrate. Do you ever get annoyed when you are talking to someone, and they're text messaging someone else as you're telling your story? Or maybe they're captivated by the TV. Why would God feel any different? Technology, while sometimes fabulous, will ruin any conversation before it even starts, so eliminate these distractions while praying. I've also found it helpful to pray at the same time every day. Make it part of your regular routine so it will becomes habit. Write it into your schedule and then treat it just like you would schedule lunch with a friend.

* Prayer WIMPS pray under their breath or in their minds, while Prayer WARRIORS pray out loud. I can do quick prayers throughout my day in silence, but if I'm seriously talking to God, my words get jumbled in the mix of all my other thoughts. When I pray out loud, I'm forced to form intelligent sentences, and I'm able to focus on what I'm saying to the Most High. (If you were writing a letter to the Preisdent of the United States, would you scribble notes on a scratch sheet of doodle paper, or would you make it look as polished as possible?) If talking out loud freaks you out, you might like the next one better....

* Prayer WIMPS pray for whatever requests they can remember, while Prayer WARRIORS have a list of prayer concerns in front of them so they can address everything to our Daddy. I had two closets in my room growing up. Well, okay, so one was a closet and the other one was a storage space that my parents just didn't need to use, so I adopted it as a second closet. But instead of putting my things in there, I kept all of my Bibles, my devotional books, pens and paper, a Sharpie, and lots of pillows and blankets. This was the place I went to pray and study His Word, away from all of the distractions. Because this closet was "mine," I decided to keep track of all of my prayer requests by writing them on the wall. When God would answer the prayer, I would scribble a date next to the request with the Sharpie. It was amazing to be able to go in that closet and look to see how faithful God had been in answering my prayers! (Note, the answer was not always yes, but He always answered!) Find a way that works for you to journal your prayer life so you can remember God's faithfulness and remember the things that you need to bring before Him.

* Prayer WIMPS make "I'm too busy" excuses for not spending time in prayer, while Prayer WARIIORS redeem time for praying out of unused corners of their schedule. Instead of picking up your cell phone or screaming about traffic when you drive, spend that time talking with the Lord. (Contrary to popular belief, your eyes DON'T have to be shut while praying.) I already told you that I combine my running time with my prayer - and some of my best times with the Lord have been when I was pounding the pavement.

* Prayer WIMPS only bring forth their requests, while Prayer WARRIORS make time to praise Him. thank Him, and meditate on Scripture. Don't let your prayers be consumed with "Do this" and "Give me." Reflect on what God has revealed to you in Scripture, and thank Him for what He is doing in your life. Don't ever miss the chance to praise Him for who He is, what He has done, and what He will do.

* Prayer WIMPS are petrified at the thought of letting someone else in on their conversations with God, while Prayer Warriors know the strength that can come from praying with someone else. Some prayers may be between just you and the Lord, but there will also be times when praying with another believer can make a huge impact. Plus, if you commit to meet with someone else on a regular basis to prayer, the accountability can help build consistency in your own prayer life. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."

* Prayer WIMPS pray for comfort, while Prayer WARRIORS pray for challenge. How many times have you heard the words, "God, be with me in all that I do today." It's habit, right? It's comforting to know that you can take Jesus with you wherever you go. But when was the last time you let Him drive? When was the last time you asked God to give you an opportunity to share the gospel or to take you out of your comfort zone? Many of Paul's letters were written from jail, and He consistently prayed for more opportunities to share the Gospel...while he was already in chains!

* Prayer WIMPS only pray for their friends, while Prayer WARRIORS also pray for their enemies. And no, this does not include the prayer that they will fall off the face of the Earth or be transferred to work at his company site in Siberia. Luke 6:28 says, "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." As much as I like to think that prayer changes people, I've now learned that prayer changes ME. God has softened my heart towards people that I never thought I would be able to be in the same room with, restoring relationships or creatine new ones. He is so faithful.

* Prayer WIMPS simply ask for forgiveness for sin, while Prayer WARRIORS ask to be delivered from all evil and temptation. Do you know those people who continually ask for forgiveness for the same thing? Maybe a roommate who always borrows your clothes and leaves them on the wet bathroom floor? Or a friend who always slips and spills something you've said in confidence? After a while, you learn your lesson - no more borrowing clothes and no more private info for them! Be responsible in your walk with the Lord so that He will give you His work to do. Living a sinless life is an impossible task worth striving for.

* Prayer WIMPS are vague in their prayers, while Prayer WARRIORS are specific. If you were God, how would you answer the prayer request, "Bless all of the missionaries." Don't generalize God. Realize that He is a BIG God and can accomplish any task. You're not going to be too specific for Him - he knows every person and every situation that you will pray for BETTER than you do!

Most important, we should lean on Jesus' advice in how to pray. I know I memorized the Lord's Prayer as a child, but it wasn't until college that I carefully examined Jesus' instruction that precedes the Lord's prayer.

Matthew 6:5-8
"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The ONLY Time to Treat Your Man Like a Toddler

Have you ever been around an infant learning how to walk? It's a unique experience. You would think my parents actually developed the concept of The Truman Show... with a few exceptions. First of all, I was completely aware of the fact I had a video camera in my face 24/7. They were also kind enough not to actually go live.

Nevertheless, my entire childhood is archived in a now-burned-to-DVD library. As my dad turned the VHS tapes to DVD to ensure their preservation, I would often hear sounds of my childhood coming from his office. One day, I was in another room watching TV when I was interrupted by deafening cheers coming from my dad's TV.

I paused for a minute and pictured what could be happening. As my dad cheered, "Come on, Chelle, get up. You can do it," I pictured myself mounting the balance beam. Manouvering graciously on the two-inch wide beam, the crowd "oohs" and "aahs" at my high level of technical difficulty expressed with grace and ease. The moment comes....the suspense is building...the intensity can only mean one thing...a deep breath in preparation for my double pike dismount off the beam...PERFECT LANDING! AND THE CROWD IS GOING WILD!

Shaking my head back to reality, I remember that I am not, nor was I ever, a world-renowned gymnast (or anything close, for that matter.) Curiosity gets the best of me, and I peak my head in my dad's office to the screen. The look on my dad's face looks almost identical to his face on the screen as he watches with excitement that can only be explained by love for his little girl.

The scene is repetitive: It consists of me crawling, finding something stable, like the leg of a chair, to grip too, as I slowly stumble on wobbly legs to a standing position. Bravely, I let go of the trusty chair leg....take half a step...and plop down on my diaper. Not exactly the double pike dismount I pictured.

But imagine what would have happened if after I took two steps, my mom had screamed, "What's wrong with you, kid?! Why can't you take more than three steps without falling down? Come on, now...WALK!" I'm not sure I would have gotten back up again. But each time I fell down, her eyes beamed with pride, she clapped her hands, and cheered, "Yay!!!"

When does that acceptance and praise end? Why do we treat others differently as we age? Do we learn to be perfect with age? Absolutely not. No matter how old we are, we always respond better to praise than we respond to criticism.

Proverbs 18:20-21 says, "With the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach will be satisfied;
He will be satisfied with the product of his lips.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit." (NASB)

With praise, we can inspire life - motivation, energy, the desire to be better. With criticism, we inflect death - discouragement, discontent, and lowered confidence that we can ever do anything right.

Narrow this idea down to one relationship - perhaps your marriage. Does your husband get more affirmation at home than he gets anywhere else? Does he rush home from work for encouragement from you, or does he linger at the office because it's the only place he feels he's successful?

Test the power of the tongue. Praise your husband when you're alone, in front of your children, in front of his parents and your parents, in front of his peers, in front of his friends...

And remember...half a step...PLOP! These don't have to be major accomplishments, like a promotion at work or winning the men's ministry golf tournament at church. Praise him for the little things, and you will be amazed at the renewed life in your home.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

"I really appreciate you vacuuming the house while I was out of town. It's so nice to come home to a clean house."

"That was really great of you to go vist her in the hospital. I know how busy we are, but I know it meant the world to her family."

"I can tell the hard work you put into that message. We're so blessed when you study His Word that intently."