“Prayer and Praise” Week 3

This is our third week of intentionally taking time to give God thanks in all situations in our life, especially those times we may not see his grace and his active presence. God is always with us. Jesus said in Matthew 28, “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There are times we feel anxious, we don’t feel valued, we don’t have what we want. Jesus is with us in every situation. As 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray continuously.”

Each day this week, we are reminded to give thanks in all things.

Day 1: Praising God for his presence in all situations

Day 2: Giving thanks for opportunities to worship

Day 3: Giving thanks for people in our life who encourage us

Day 4: Thanking God for the opportunities to encourage others

Day 5: Praising God for the opportunities to see him in all aspects of our life when we look

Day 6: Praising God for listening to us and the chance to pray

Day 7: Praising God for answered prayers (even when it’s not the answer we asked for

I invite you to take time to read the scripture this week from 1 Samuel 1. See where you may fit in and see what God may be speaking to you this week.

1 Samuel 1:3-20

Every year this man would leave his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lordof heavenly forces in Shiloh, where Eli’s two sons Hophni and Phinehas were the Lord’s priests. Whenever he sacrificed, Elkanah would give parts of the sacrifice to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But he would give only one part of it to Hannah, though he loved her, because the Lord had kept her from conceiving.[b] And because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving, her rival would make fun of her mercilessly, just to bother her. So that is what took place year after year. Whenever Hannah went to the Lord’s house, Peninnah would make fun of her. Then she would cry and wouldn’t eat anything. “Hannah, why are you crying?” her husband Elkanah would say to her. “Why won’t you eat? Why are you[c] so sad? Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?” One time, after eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah got up and presented herself before the Lord.[d] (Now Eli the priest was sitting in the chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple.) 10 Hannah was very upset and couldn’t stop crying as she prayed to the Lord. 11 Then she made this promise: “Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the Lord for his entire life. No razor will ever touch his head.” 12 As she kept praying before the Lord, Eli watched her mouth. 13 Now Hannah was praying in her heart; her lips were moving, but her voice was silent, so Eli thought she was drunk. 14 “How long will you act like a drunk? Sober up!” Eli told her. 15 “No sir!” Hannah replied. “I’m just a very sad woman. I haven’t had any wine or beer but have been pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think your servant is some good-for-nothing woman. This whole time I’ve been praying out of my great worry and trouble!” 17 Eli responded, “Then go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you’ve asked from him.” 18 “Please think well of me, your servant,” Hannah said. Then the woman went on her way, ate some food, and wasn’t sad any longer. 19 They got up early the next morning and worshipped the Lord. Then they went back home to Ramah. Elkanah had sex with his wife Hannah, and the Lordremembered her. 20 So in the course of time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, which means “I asked the Lord for him.”

“Prayer and Praise” Week 2

This week, we look at the passage in Mark 12. In this, we can see several things; but the biggest concept I think we can take out of it for this week, is the concept of giving thanks in our lack and being thankful for the opportunity to give.

Mark 12:38-44 “As he was teaching, he said, “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.” Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money.  One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny.  Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

There is so much going on in this passage, that I invite each of us to take time and study what s being said and what is being done. It can be too easy to look at this and gloss over what Jesus is saying and the situation of the widow.

We are invited to spend some time in prayer daily this week, thanking God. Each day, we have an opportunity to be thankful for something different (and most likely something we would not give thanks for).

Day 1: Praise God for the opportunities to give

Day 2: Praise God for the position you are placed in and ask for guidance to use it to His glory

Day 3: Praise God for noticing situations that are wrong and ask for guidance, and the people, to work with you to fix it

Day 4: Give thanks for Jesus’ words that give life and challenge to us as we keep growing in our faith and relationship with others

Day 5: Give Jesus praise for His active presence in your life

Day 6: Praise God for His provision even in times of lack. Also give thanks for the opportunity to give even when we perceive a time of lack.

Day 7: Give God glory for this past week. Praise Him for everything He has done and praise Him, in advance, for everything He will do.

“Becoming Great”

Mark 10:41-43  Now when the other ten disciples heard about this, they became angry with James and John. Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.

There have been may times that something I have said has made another person, or even a group of people, angry or upset. I have gotten upset over words from another person (hearing a voice or via written message). We can easily allow what people say to upset us and let our emotions determine how we act.

This is how I imagine the disciples mindset at this point in time. I cannot blame them for feeling the way do at this point. It is easy to understand what might be going through their minds at this point. If they would have taken time to talk with James and John, would they have gotten angry? Would they be able to understand the brothers’ background and meet them where they were? Did the other ten disciples want to have the same position of greatness and were angry because they did not ask first?

I wonder if James and John understood why the other disciples were angry.

Jesus teaches his disciples about true greatness. He tells them that earthly position and authority are fragile. We should not strive to gain earthly recognition, but to strive for the glory of God.

To live for the glory of God means we live our life for something bigger than we are. When we do this, we become more humble. Becoming more humble means we begin to be a servant rather than a master. It seems backwards. Becoming a servant to become great. I think this makes good sense when we think about it. We cannot just jump to becoming an owner, we have to work for it. We have to be able to do the lowliest tasks in order to become ready for the bigger tasks.

“Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.”

Are You Able?

Mark 10:38-40 Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you’re asking! Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said, “You will drink the cup I drink and receive the baptism I receive, but to sit at my right or left hand isn’t mine to give. It belongs to those for whom it has been prepared.”

Ever have a moment when you feel you present your best case to someone and they just shut you down? I have. We can try to think through all the angles and the other person shows another angle we missed.

Jesus does this for James and John. It is very possible they asked Jesus to agree and grant their request before they ask they question because they figured Jesus may not respond favorably. They were right.

I love Jesus’ response here. “Can you…” Well, of course the disciples were going to say YES to whatever Jesus mentioned because they were trying to show they had what it takes to have the positions they were asking for. Jesus is trying to show them they really don’t know what they’re asking for; but they will one day.

Jesus talks about drinking the cup (living the destined purpose) and receiving the baptism (final cleaning of sin). Do you think if the disciples were not understanding the prediction of Jesus’ death that they really understood what Jesus was asking them? To me, this seems like a typical guy response. “Of course I can do that. If you can, I can.”

Jesus looks right through their response here and simply says they will drink the cup and receive the baptism. He was trying to tell them something about their future. James was the first disciple martyred and John was exiled to the island of Patmos. They lived as Jesus predicted they would live.

Jesus lived His earthly life always pointing people to God, God’s Kingdom, heaven; something bigger than His human life. It is difficult to explain the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit); but Jesus reminds the disciples and us that what we think we want in heaven while here on earth, there is something greater than we can imagine ahead.

Are you able to handle what Jesus gives? Are you able to handle the life Jesus calls you to?

With Christ, you can!

Yes They Said That

Mark 10:35-37 “James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They said, “Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory.”

So. Jesus just plainly told His disciples what is going to happen to Him when they make it to Jerusalem. Then comes this request. We first have to wonder why they had the audacity to ask this and then wonder why they did ask.

James and John were two brothers who left their father’s fishing business, along with the hire help, to follow Jesus. These were the only disciples to really have come from a background of having a decent amount of income/money. It is possible they thought higher of themselves then the others. Maybe they did have a sense of entitlement based upon their background and who they were in society.

It is also easy to forget that many Jewish people back then , and today, had a different concept of who the Messiah would be and what He would do. Many thought the Messiah would be a conquering war hero who would kick the Romans out of power and usher in a new age of prosperity for Israel. They did not expect God in flesh to be the Messiah.

It does seem odd that Jesus would talk about His dying and they would come up with a request to have special positions and authority. This shows they were not really paying attention. But the truth is, none of the disciples were paying close attention when Jesus talked about His death. Are we any different?

When someone talks to us about the incredible God we serve, what is our response? “That’s cool. What’s for lunch?” We can become so engrossed in our own thinking, or even become apathetic toward the message, we miss the significance about what is going on.

It is easier, at times, to think about what we want and go for it than it is to be present in the moment and pay attention. Jesus was telling about something important that was about to happen and the disciples wanted to have a place at the table.

We will see this week that Jesus offers grace. Grace is something that is available if we accept it and apply it to our daily lives.

Setting the Stage

Mark 10:32-34 “Jesus and his disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, with Jesus in the lead. The disciples were amazed while the others following behind were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he told them what was about to happen to him. “Look!” he said. “We’re going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the legal experts. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles. They will ridicule him, spit on him, torture him, and kill him. After three days, he will rise up.”

This week, we are looking at a passage that, once again, may hit home. This week, we’re looking at James and John asking for a place of glory and position alongside Jesus in the Kingdom that will be coming. We should start here to see what was happening before the favor of the two disciples.

Jesus is now giving the third prediction of His death and resurrection. This prediction seems more blunt to me, mostly because it is. Each time Jesus predicted what is going to happen to Him, He started to just come out and say it. After He spoke about divorce and remarriage, blessing the children and encountering a rich man, Jesus tells his disciples what is going to happen to him. This time he goes into more details.

We read the disciples were amazed and the others following were afraid. Why the difference? I think it’s interesting how the terms “disciples” and “the others” is used. It shows a comparison to those following. The disciples were those eager to learn from Jesus, so they went with Him along the way. The others may have been there for selfish reasons or did not trust they would be taken care of or Jesus just scared them after teaching what He did. I bet there are a lot of reasons for the different types of people there.

Which category do you fall in? Eager to learn about everything Christ is teaching? Or, following and becoming nervous or afraid because Jesus seems to be expecting something too difficult or scary?

Jesus doesn’t draw attention to the different people there. He plainly states, to His disciples, “Look!…We’re going up to Jerusalem.” Then He goes on to say what will happen when they get there. Jesus is determined to keep going, and bring His followers with Him so they can see what will happen.

What would you be feeling if you were in this situation?

Get ‘Em

James 5:19-20 “My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”

James has been a great series to be in for this month. The ending is not what we might consider “normal.” After all, what has James been doing the entire letter up until these verses? Getting the community of faith to live their lives in the manner they speak and worship.

There have been ups and downs, as with all aspects of human life. Living to a higher standard, is difficult. It is possible to try and live a decent life through good works; but it is because of our faith and living out our faith are the works we do elevated to give God glory.

Prayer is a communication between man and God and God and man. This is one of the most powerful things we can do in our lives. When people get together as a community and pray, souls are aligned. This is one reason I believe Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” (Matthew 18:20). There is just something special and powerful when we get together as a community.

There are times when there is a rift, a division within the community of faith and a person has abandoned the faith. People will run off and do there own things. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that he handed people over to Satan for their benefit so they would come back to God anew. When someone decides to walk away, James says to go get them!

Now, we do not go bring them back so numbers will be higher, or giving will increase. We go because God desires all people to have a saving knowledge of Him. We grow in our faith because of the community of faith we are part of. If a person walks away, it becomes easy to hold on to the parts of our life we are ashamed of. We miss out on the opportunity to take the burden off our hearts and confess sins, confess wrong doings.

Confession, repentance and forgiveness is something powerful that we cannot ignore. Going to get people who walk away, or who have never known the faith helps us maintain relationships and walk with people through their hurts, their joys, their life.

Who do you believe God is leading you to go get?

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.

God is Near

James 4:7-10 “Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Do you ever have those days where the scripture seems to beat you down? We can personalize scripture and, if we’re not careful, we’ll make it all about us and feel like it’s telling us what a bad person we are. Even throughout the Old Testament, I read grace. Specifically grace from God.

There is always hope. God has not abandoned. Jesus will not forsake. The Holy Spirit is with us and guiding us. This is where we are today with the passage. All week long, there have been times in the scripture (James 3:13-4:6) where it can seem like we have to have our lives perfect. Arrogance, pride, jealousy, selfish ambition, etc have all been talked about and discussed. I pray this is not where you are left, dwelling on any negative aspect you may view about yourself.

Today, we see something amazing. God is saying, “come near.” This doesn’t mean that God is far off and He is wanting us to go up to Him to be in His presence. God is already near to us. There are times when we feel like we are distant from God or that God is distant from us. God’s proximity to us is always the same. Our proximity to God is always the same. We will still feel distant because of a number of reasons: we know we sinned, how much sleep we got, how hungry we are, having a rough day or a rough week.

These are all reasons we feel distant from God, and I’m sure there are more. God says “come near.” When we realize He is already present among us, all we have to do is acknowledge His presence.

I invite you right now to pause, close your eyes, and thank God for His presence with you at this moment.

It is through these times when we realize we can still come close to God, even though we messed up, even though we feel low, that we can experience and live into the grace He gives. We have this opportunity to confess, repent, and allow God to purify us.

God will “lift you up.” I don’t take this to mean that He will automatically make everything better, or that He will wipe away consequences from our actions. He does make His presence known, and somehow gives us the strength and the power to endure the situation and allow Him to shine through us.

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” What an incredible verse in scripture! The Apostle Paul is showing that he can handle and still live joyfully in every situation. He wasn’t saying that he can do anything he wants because Jesus said he could. Paul is saying that because of the power of Jesus Christ working through him, he is able to handle what comes his way.

I believe God does the same for you and for me. So, draw near to God, confess, repent, purify, humble yourself and see how God is working in you and through you.

We all need the power of Jesus Christ in our lives. It is through grace that we are able to be lifted up and brought to a place of knowing who and whose we are.

Lord God, you are close to us. Help us see you and experience your presence. We confess the ways We have gone against you….We pray for the strength to handle the situations in life and for your power and grace to shine through us. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.