More Than Words

Have you ever been told, “just pray about it?” I have told people this for years, especially when there is something of importance going on whether it be with vocation, relationships, new projects, etc. Prayer is one of the things that we know is important; but a great deal of us don’t really put too much thought into what we’re praying for or words that we’re saying.

Luke 11:1-13 shows Jesus’ disciples asking Him, “teach us to pray.” Yesterday, I asked the congregation, “have you asked Jesus to teach you to pray?” This is a very valuable question to ask; especially because this was a convicting question for me as well. If we can humbly go to Jesus Christ to teach us how to pray and listen for His answer, we can realize more and more the reality is we are communicating with God each and every time we pray.

To prepare for this message this past week, I read several commentaries and one thing stood out. One of the commentators for the United Methodist Church had this to say, “According to a Pew Research report, 55% of American Christians say they pray every day. These persons rely on prayer when making personal decisions, and consider prayer and essential part of their identity.” Isn’t this interesting. What I read in this is that 45% of American Christians do not feel they need to pray daily. My question is, how can someone have a real relationship with God if there is not constant communication. Before we get judgemental, I do believe there are people who do not pray because they do not believe God will answer their prayers.

The first thing to look at when we talk about prayer is Jesus gives us assurance that God not only cares about us, but He hears our prayers and does answer them. Luke 11:11-13 says, “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

We all need assurance that God will answer our prayers, that our words do not stop at the ceiling. My guess is that we have all heard about three answers that God gives: Yes, No, Not Yet. These answers we can deal with; but there is a fourth answer we don’t seem to mention very much. That answer is “I have already given you an answer and am waiting for you to act.”

I remember, when I was a child and I would do everything I could do to find a favorable answer to a question. For many of us, it may be the case that we don’t like the answer God has given and we keep trying to get Him to change His mind or at least give us an alternative answer.

No matter what our response to the answers God gives us, we should still be assured that He does answer us. Because we can trust that God will answer our prayers, we should be open to the various ways He answers, oftentimes using other people around us.

The Gospel of Luke passage shows the disciples asking Jesus how to pray. A couple of things stand out when I read what has been called the “Lord’s Prayer.” One is that the normal things we end up focusing on some things and leaving out others. For example we’ll focus on the physical health or a person instead of the spiritual health. This is what I have called “organ prayers.” It is easier to pray for physical healing of body organs than for spiritual or emotional healing to bring a person to completeness and wholeness.

Jesus, on the other hand gives us, not just a script of what to pray, but for us to watch how we are praying and what we pray for. He is showing the disciples, which includes us today, that we should pray with the will of God in mind. Many of us have not taken the time to really think about these words. These are not “magic words” to get God to do our bidding. Instead, when we pray we’ll seek God and His direction.

Father, hallowed be your name: This is important so we remember who we are speaking with and to not use God’s name as something that is common or ordinary.

Your kingdom come: ushering in the kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Does our world look like, right now, how heaven will be? Not yet. There are many things that are still happening. The reality of the Kingdom of Heaven is here; but there is still the culmination of heaven being on earth full time that will eventually take place.

Natural disasters

Devaluing of human life

Distractions from our relationships

More concerned about the individual than the health of the community

not everyone knows Jesus Christ on a personal level

Give us this day our daily bread: completely dependent on God for all we need each day (goes against our individualistic do it by yourself mottos)

Think about Israelites wandering around in the desert and the manna from heaven who did not know where the food was coming from; but they trusted that God would provide each day.

Most of us don’t worry about where our next meal is coming from, or where we are going to get the next thing that we want

Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted (sinned against) to us: As a commentator notes, “Jewish teachings had already linked the necessity of forgiving others to one’s ability to receive forgiveness…the ability to forgive and be forgiven are part of the same gift.”

And do not bring us to the time of trial: “normal trials” for us may include traffic, rude people, sicknesses, anything like this.

  • also think about things that would hinder or harm your relationship with other people (family members included)
  • Consider to seek protection against things that will come between yours and God’s relationship

We pray for healing, for provision, for protection, for our relationships with other people AND with God

As we can see, it really is more than words when we speak to the Living God through prayer who can and will answer our prayers. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is basically praying this way:

“God, we honor you on earth more than we honor our own flesh and blood parents. Please come to rule our lives every day that we l have on this earth. Help us to not worry about the future. We ask only for enough bread to get through this day. Don’t forgive us our sins until we have found a way to forgive every person who has done us wrong. And please God, do not test our faith too much because we know that we are weak and that we will surely fail.”

May we all continue to develop our prayer life and seek the face and Kingdom of God daily.

Prayer Walk (Mark 10:46-52)

Jesus and his disciples are walking from Jericho. Sometime today, tomorrow and the next day, I invite you to take a walk. Place yourself within this passage. It may be helpful to have a time limit, if you’re not used to doing an exercise like this.

I used to not enjoy reading when I was younger. So in my early twenties, I picked up some audio books and listened to them. This was something I enjoyed and found when I heard the story, I was able to remember it better and place myself within the story to picture it. One day I decided to pick up some books and read them. I began to picture the story line and the books began to come alive to me. This is one of the reasons I love to read the Bible: many stories in there that can actually tell our story.

So, this is an exercise to try and make the scripture come even more alive, in our imagination. I have found it is too easy to sit and read and not let the Word take root in us; but if we move like the people in the Bible, we’ll be able to experience more.

The exercise:

Read. Read the passage a couple times before heading out for a walk. (passage is below). If you have an audio version you can take with you on the walk, awesome.

Pray. Pray before heading out asking God to reveal himself to you in a new or different way.

Walk. This is one of my favorite parts. Walk and reflect on the passage. As you find yourself walking, picture the story happening right where you are. Imagine Jesus, the disciples, a crowd, a shouting person asking for help. Do you keep walking? Do you stop and just watch? Do you call someone else? Is it time to make fun of or chastise the person? Do we pray and ask God to send someone else so they can help?

Imagining the story like this helps me to be able to see God working in our day to day life. This also helps to remind me to look for opportunities to be present and see God, his people and his mission wherever I am.

Journal. I recommend journaling what you experienced, what God showed you on your walk. This way, it is easy to remember and we have a record we can go back and read later.

Pray. Pray again. This is a simple prayer of thanks. Thanking God for the opportunity to see the world as he sees it. Also, asking God to help us see the world and his people this way in all aspects of life.

Prayer walks are enjoyable to me. I hope God reveals himself to you as you try this exercise.

Next week, we begin a new series on “Giving Thanks.” We’ll have one devotional each week for the month of November, but there will be 7 things to pray for (one for each day of the week). I’m excited about this upcoming series and seeing what will happen when we take intentional time to thank and praise God, even the trials we experience.


Mark 10:46-52 (CEB)
Healing of blind Bartimaeus
Jesus and his followers came into Jericho. As Jesus was leaving Jericho, together with his disciples and a sizable crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, Timaeus’ son, was sitting beside the road. When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.” They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.” Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.

Stories

James 5:17-18 “Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

There are incredible stories of God answering prayers throughout the Bible. Sometimes I think we do not think that God answers prayers in the same way as recorded in scripture; or we may believe that we are not as good as the people who had the answers to prayers.

One thing is for certain, the people mentioned in the Bible are real people who did their best to keep their hearts in tune with God. We do not have to worry about them being better than we are. They made mistakes as well; yet they still stayed faithful to God and hearing from Him.

There are people who have incredible stories of prayer and God’s answer to them. We can praise God for any answer He give: yes, no, not yet. Often times we hear of how a person prayed and God miraculously stepped in to deliver them from several kinds of situations (health failing, finances, work, etc). But what about those stories that do not get as much press or media attention?

Think for a moment about the times you know God has answered your prayers. Were they always the way you wanted them answered? Most likely not. Yet, we still have stories of how God answered prayers, even when we didn’t like the answer, to be an example of faithfulness to our Creator.

Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken away from Him; but He still followed through. You and I can be examples to show how we keep communication open with God, through our prayers, in all aspects of our lives.

What kinds of stories can you tell about God’s answers to your prayers? If this is something challenging to think of, I invite you to begin a Prayer Journal. In this journal, record the date, time, prayer you prayed and leave a space for answer. Every now and then go through this Prayer Journal to recall your prayers and see how many answers you received. This will be an incredible story of faithfulness that will make an impact not only on your life, but on the lives of your family and friends that will be able to help them in their walk with Jesus Christ.

Prayer of the Righteous

James 5:15-16 “Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.”

Do you believe in the power to be healed by faith? I do. Before someone tries to counter this, let me explain. First of all, we have to consider what “sick” means. I believe this can affect so many aspects of our life (physical, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual).

Physical healing can be done by God, and there are cases this has happened. Most of the time, I believe God works through doctors and medical professionals. It is amazing the work they do and I believe it is a gift of God they have the wisdom, giftedness and the calling to do that work. I say calling because I think it is a calling that someone answers whether or not they know it is God. Through the prayers of the community, it is amazing what God can and does in and through people who are physically sick.

Now, physical healing can take place instantly; but it can take time too. Sometimes complete healing comes after this life. But there is a kind of healing that can take place instantaneously. These verses can and should take us back to the healings Jesus did. Most of the time when Jesus healed a person physically, he also forgave their sins.

A question we should ask is, “does sickness come from sin?” The answer is yes and no. Not all sickness or diseases come from sin. We live in a fallen world, so diseases are prevalent among us. There are sins that do cause diseases. If we knowingly do something that is bad for our health, then we live with the consequences.

When Jesus forgave sins, he was doing something that happens instantaneously. The condition of the soul can manifest itself physically. For Jesus to forgive sins, he was healing the person from the inside out, not just the outside appearance. This kind of healing can and does happen instantaneously.

When we are forgiven of our sins, we no longer are bound by the sin that held us down. We have been given the chance to leave a way of life that was not healthy for us and move into a new way of life, one that is filled with joy (even though life is tough at times), filled with peace (even among the turmoil around us), filled with love (even though we don’t see people acting out of love).

This is why it is important to confess our sins to one another. A simple reminder that we are not in this life alone and that our actions do have consequences that affect more than just us. Confessing our sins puts us back on the path that God intends for us. Not only that, we have people to walk alongside us!

This can happen all at once and it is amazing the power of God at work in and through a community of faith.

Healing

James 5:14 “If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

We have all been sick at one time or another. Do we feel like being around people when you’re sick? Me neither. Most of the time, I like to be left alone because I don’t want to spread the infection and get other people sick around me. But, this verse is teaching the exact opposite of this mentality.

Instead of being by ourselves, or secluded from other people, this verse is showing there is a healing power when we are with our community. It is within the community, the people called the elders, the leaders of the church, to pray over them. The leaders represented the church, so the people would all be in agreement. This verse also does not say the elders were praying “for” the sick person; it says they pray “over the person.

This means that the pray was said with the sick person present, with the community present. The elders and the community would lay hands and use oil to anoint (touch) the person in need of healing.

Does this mean the laying on of hands and the oil has special powers? Not really. What it is doing is showing the power of community prayer. There is something special that happens when we pray together.

To do this, we may even have to pray “in front” of people. *Gasp* But, this is not really that difficult. It is not in the laying on of hands, the oil, or even the words we say that bring healing. God doesn’t need certain phrases for Him to intervene. God is more interested in the heart. When we combine our hearts, it is amazing what kind of healing that can happen, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, relationally.

Who can you get together with to pray over?

Wise and Understanding

We’ve been on this journey through the book of James. There have been times where, I hope, we have been challenged and yet encouraged. Challenged to help us have lives that demonstrate our love for Jesus Christ, and encouraged to help us grow in our relationship with God and with other people.

This week, we begin to look at the passage which is considered to be the heart of the letter. At the end of this week, we’ll see a response to God we can take on a daily basis.

James 3:13 “Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom.”

These are important questions we should ask. But, how do we know if we have wisdom? If we know we have wisdom, how does this affect our lives? Are our lives humble enough to allow the wisdom from God to define us?

One of the first things I think we should look at are definitions. Definitions of “wisdom” and “humble.”

wisdom: 

: knowledge that is gained by having many experiences in life

: the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand

: knowledge of what is proper or reasonable : good sense or judgment

humble:

: not proud : not thinking of yourself as better than other people

: given or said in a way that shows you do not think you are better than other people

: showing that you do not think of yourself as better than other people

If someone were to tell you how your life appeared to them, what would they say? It would be difficult for me to hear someone else describe my life. After all, they don’t know what I feel or what I’m thinking.

But, I think this is the point. We all want to think people know the real us; but what if they knew our thoughts and our feelings we don’t show? How humble would we be if another person gave us their perception of us?

I invite you today to pray about wisdom and see how this impacts your life. I’m still learning and growing; but God is good and faithful to send wisdom when we ask. Then, we seek to understand what we have learned. I believe one of the tricks is to not let wisdom make us feel better than other people, but to seek out to better our understanding to be in relationship with them which will help our relationship with God.

Lord, thank you for all you have given. I pray for your guidance today. Help me see you and your work in this world. Amen

New Attitude and Thinking

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Colossians 3:5-11 So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). The wrath of God is coming upon disobedient people because of these things. You used to live this way, when you were alive to these things. But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people. 

Click here for Colossians 3 in context

This is a point that Paul is trying to make in all of his letters to the different churches. I find it interesting that he has to remind the people over and over again to put aside things of the world and live the life of Jesus Christ. It almost seems as though the people would remember they are new creations because of Christ. It seems like we should remember this as well.

How easy it is to fall back into the old temptations and old ways of living. The pull of physical satisfaction is great and we can forget that we are new creations, that we have a new mind because we have died with Christ. The actions and attitudes that Paul describes “sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)…anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language” are things that we should not allow to control us or define our lives.

The world around us says differently though. The world around us says it is the most important thing in life to make sure the physical desires and wants are satisfied and taken care of. But, if we have died with Christ, these actions and attitudes should not be part of our lives. The reason? Sin does not do really anything except tear down. We are called to build people up and help them live as Christ is desiring them (and us) to live. The other reason I can see is that these actions and attitudes listed really come from selfishness. We are called to the body of Christ which means that we all have a part to play and each person is important. We look for ways to love people, even when it hurts or is difficult.

Paul reminds the readers, and us, that in Christ we are all one. There is no distinction between groups. Christ is in all things and situations. Christ is in all people. He gets the glory and we can praise Him even when people do not do what we ant them do to. We can love those who do not act lovable. We can do all of this because Christ brings us together. Many parts, one body.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist