Leadership

3 Observations on Praying Like Paul

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A leader must remain aware of his desperate need for God to help him and to guide him in his leadership role. One of the ways that we can stay aware of this desperate need is through a devotion to regular times of prayer. Prayer is the expression of our life’s dependence on God.

As someone who has been given the responsibility to lead other men and to help them in their obedience to Jesus and their overall spiritual development, I am often reminded of my own inadequacies for such a challenging task. It is humbling to admit this, but I often find myself trying to lead others with a mindset that believes if I study enough, learn enough and work hard enough, I can change people’s lives. The funny thing about that mindset is that personal experience continues to teach me that it’s not that simple and that I don’t have that kind of power. I can keep trying hard, but only God can transform hearts.

And so, a wise leader must acknowledge his own limitations and remain aware of his desperate need for God to help him and to guide him in his leadership role. And this means that one of the most valuable practices a leader can undertake is the practice of praying for those that you are responsible for leading.

So how exactly should we pray for those that we are leading?

Well, a good place to start is by reading and studying the four personal prayers of the apostle Paul that he describes in his own words in Ephesians 1, Ephesians 3, Philippians 1 and Colossians 1. In his oversight and responsibility towards these people, Paul writes to them and describes how he has been praying for them. These prayers tell us how we ought to pray, what we should ask for and why we should ask for it.

How We Should Pray

Paul mentions the frequency and posture of his prayers for the people that he is leading. He says that he bows his knees before the Father and that he does not cease to pray for these people. In the same way, we too should exhibit a posture that honors and respects God’s authority as King, and we should pray regularly for the people that we are trying to lead. This may or may not mean that we pray for them everyday, but it seems reasonable to say that we should be praying for them weekly or at least every-other-week.

What We Should Ask For

When you read all four of these prayers, it becomes strikingly clear what Paul wants the most for those that he is leading. He regularly asks God for an increase in their knowledge and wisdom. He refers to knowledge six different times in the four prayers and repeatedly uses words like discernment, wisdom, comprehension, understanding and enlightenment. Paul believes that the renewing of a person’s mind will fuel the renovation of their heart.

In the same way, we too should ask God to help those that we are leading to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God. We desperately need the Holy Spirit to flip the lights on in the hearts and minds of others so that they will have a better view of God and all that he does for us. We can be incredible teachers, but again only God can transform the human mind and lead people to live with the wisdom and discernment that he gives. We are trying to help people learn and embrace a new worldview and a new way of life, and that requires a powerful work of God that goes beyond what we can accomplish on our own.

Why We Should Ask For It

Paul’s focus in these prayers is on an increase in knowledge, but his goal is not that people will simply know more information about God. Paul wants people to gain a better knowledge of God because he knows that this will also give people the insight that they need to love one another better and to live in harmony with one another.

The goal here is that this increase in knowledge and love will cultivate a desire in us to pursue what is pure and right and good in every situation and therefore help us make better decisions in life where we do just that. The goal is that an increase in knowledge will help us live a new way of life where we make wise decisions that would truly bless others and honor God.

And so, in the same way, we too should ask God that the Holy Spirit would be such a strong influence in the lives of those that we are leading that it completely changes the way that they see the world around them and the way that they choose to live each and every day of their lives. We should ask God to help others better comprehend his love that is incomprehensible. Because as people begin to comprehend and experience and embrace the love that describes our God and as they become more aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives then they will increasingly find themselves becoming more and more like Jesus himself — which is the goal.

Conclusion

Prayer is the expression of our life’s dependence on God, and prayer is an essential element for those in a position of leadership. Paul was devoted to praying regularly for those that he was leading, and he gives us a very practical example of how we ought to be praying we well. And so, if we want to be wise leaders and faithful servants of God, it wouldn’t hurt if we studied these four prayers and started praying like Paul.

Let’s pray regularly for those that we are leading with a posture that honors God for who he is. Let’s ask God to enlighten their hearts and minds with knowledge of who he is and what he is doing in this world. And let’s ask God to strengthen them with his Spirit so that this increase in knowledge would transform their way of life and lead them to become more like Jesus himself.

Image Restored

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As I’ve spent time thinking over the new series that we are doing for players this Spring Training, I find myself trying to take the time to examine my own life so I can figure out different ways that I need to better practice what I’m teaching in each study. It’s the inevitable conflict of those who teach others the truths of God — I can discover and deliver those truths, and yet if I’m not disciplined and discerning, I can easily find myself not fully responding to them in my own life.

I make the case in our first study that God’s plan for creation is that it would be run by obedient humans who would rule over the creation on his behalf. And despite human defiance and our own foolish decisions to try and rule the world our own way by defining good and evil for ourselves, God has never given up on that plan.

The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the obedient human who has retaken the throne at the right-hand of the Creator and who now rules over the creation on his behalf. He has rescued humans from the consequences of our rebellion, and he has restored us back into being creatures made in the image of God.

This means that Jesus restores us into being able to once again fulfill our very special vocation and calling to be real-life expressions of God’s authority over the creation and that we can now join Jesus in ruling over the world on his behalf as his special representatives.

This is a profound truth that ought to help us rediscover the dignity of what it means to be a human being, and an incredible privilege that we would be foolish to not embrace with everything that we got.

And so, over the last few weeks, I have been contemplating what this means for my own life. What does this actually look like for me right now in my day-to-day routine and life?

Here’s a few self-suggestions that I have come up with for now:

Be the Household Leader

First, I need to be a leader over my household and make every effort to make my environment a place of order, beauty, peace and goodness. And I don’t think it does us any good to over-spiritualize this. Being a leader who rules over my environment on behalf of God requires teaching my children about who God is and what he has done for us, but I think it also includes things like cleaning the clutter in our house and keeping hurtful language and imagery off our screens.

I need to create the kind of atmosphere in my home that reflects the order, beauty, peace and goodness of God.

Be a Humble Learner

Next, I need to be a humble learner when it comes to things like social justice, racial reconciliation, climate change, green energy and anything else that promotes care for the environment and serious concern for the flourishing of every human individual. This doesn’t mean that I must agree with every position or not hold any convictions of my own, but I do need to make sure that I’m not so influenced by my own ideological preferences that I feel like I have things figured out.

I need to be quick to listen, concentrated in my thought and slow to speak so that my words will be used to promote any good that God wants in his world and not wasted on what could very well be my own definition of good and evil.

Be a Servant to All

And lastly (for now), I need to diligently pray like Jesus taught us to pray and ask that God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

This profound truth that we have been restored by Jesus to the vocation of ruling the world on behalf of God as his special representatives ought to open up my mind in new ways about what it means to pray in this way. And it means that I need to realize that part of this request is accepting the responsibility that I am asking God to use me however he wants to accomplish his will here on earth as it is in heaven.

I need to walk around throughout my day aware that I am representing God at all times to all people and stay ready for any opportunity that he may present before me to speak and act on his behalf. And I need to never forget that Jesus demonstrated and taught that we are to rule with him by becoming servants to everyone. I must consider the lives of others as more significant than my own and that includes the life of my enemies and those who might harm me if they could (let that sink in). Ruling with Jesus requires taking up a cross like him, and not a sword like the “rulers” of this world.

And so, as you enter into this next season, realize that through the work of Christ, you have been restored back into being creatures made in the image of God. You are now a special representative of the Creator and therefore responsible to bring order and goodness and peace to your circle of influence on his behalf. To wrap this up with some imagery from the story of Adam, lets all embrace this incredible privilege and calling and make every effort to take care of the gardens that God has placed us in.

Confronting the King

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In the midst of an extremely divisive climate in our culture, we could use some wisdom on how to best engage in heated conversations without throwing gas on the fire. As we also live in what has become a post-Christian society, we could use some wisdom on how to best share the teachings of Jesus in a way that corrects misunderstandings about him and that confronts the ways that he is often misrepresented.

Recently I was asked to write four short devotional-type messages that will be published in an upcoming issue of the Sports Spectrum magazine. Each these four writings were to be based on the overall theme of how we should engage others who might hold different opinions about life than we do.

For this project, I decided to use four different encounters that Jesus had during his time in the Jerusalem temple recorded in chapter twelve of Mark’s gospel. In each of these encounters, we see the wisdom of Jesus confronting and challenging others in a way that can help us in our conversations today. Those encounters and some principles that we learn from them have been summarized below, and I hope this helps all of us in carrying out our duty of being peacemakers and voices of unity, grace and truth in the midst of so much divisiveness and confusion.

 

TRANSCEND TALKING POINTS

Mark 12:13-17

In chapter twelve of Mark’s gospel, Mark records some stories of Jesus being challenged by different groups of people with hard questions to see how he might react or respond. Those who are offended by his life and message are hoping to get him to saying something offensive or damaging to his reputation, but in each one of these encounters, Jesus demonstrates great wisdom as he responds with answers that transcend all the potential traps and talking points.

In one encounter, the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to trap Jesus with a question on taxation. These two groups were notorious adversaries in regard to many political and religious issues in the same way that we might think of Republicans and Democrats today. Jesus seems to be a threat to both of their agendas, and so they come together to try and force Jesus into a position of either supporting Roman authority or Israelite independence.

Today, we live in a very divisive and opinionated society where people are quick to pick a particular side of an argument or issue. As those who belong to Jesus, we must be different and respond in ways that transcend the typical talking points.

Jesus’ response doesn’t affirm or condemn either agenda. He basically says, “The coins bear the image of Caesar so give them to Caesar; man bears the image of God so give yourself to God.” It’s a brilliant response that avoids the trap of picking a side while also challenging the agenda of both. 

A GOOD QUESTION

Mark 12:18-27

In another encounter that Mark records in his gospel, the Sadducees attempt to trap Jesus with a question concerning the resurrection. The Sadducees were a group of wealthy Jewish families who controlled the Jerusalem temple and the highest religious council of Israel. They were conservative in their beliefs and did not believe in a resurrection or life after death. Therefore, the teaching of Jesus was ridiculous to them.

The Sadducees simply come to mock Jesus’ belief in a resurrection by giving an obviously ridiculous and unrealistic illustration of a woman who was married seven different times. They then ask Jesus, “In this resurrection and eternal life that you keep talking about, which one of these seven men will get to be her husband?” In their minds, they’ve just proven that belief in a resurrection and eternal life is dumb.

The Sadducees believed that this life was all that mattered because this life was all there was. It was this belief that motivated their materialism and skepticism. We all know people like this today, and we are probably familiar with people who ask overstated questions in an attempt to make our beliefs look foolish or unpopular.

Jesus doesn’t entertain the overstated question. Instead, he responds with a question that challenges the Sadducees’ own understanding of what they claim to believe, and then he uses what they believe to prove the validity of his own teaching. It’s another brilliant response and a reminder that sometimes a good question is the best answer. 

SOLID ANSWERS

Mark 12:28-40

After some encounters with people who opposed his message, Jesus is approached by a scribe who seems to be sincere in the question that he wants to ask. This scribe is a teacher of the Jewish Scriptures, and he wants to know Jesus’ honest opinion concerning what commandment best sums up all the other commandments of God.

Whenever we are confronted by people who ask overstated questions to criticize what we believe, we must recognize that these questions are rarely sincere and that the person asking such questions is not really seeking any sort of answer. However, whenever we are approached by people who ask honest questions and who seem to be sincere and teachable then we need to be ready and able to give clear and insightful answers that confirm what we believe.   

Jesus gives this teachable scribe a very direct and clear answer. Jesus tells him that the command in Deuteronomy 6 to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and the command in Leviticus 19 to love your neighbor as yourself can be combined to give you the fundamental command that best sums up all the other commandments. The scribe finds Jesus’ answer agreeable and appreciates such a clear response. 

As disciples of Jesus, we must devote ourselves to studying the Scriptures and truly knowing what we believe. And then like Jesus, we must stay ready and able to give solid answers to sincere questions.

THE ULTIMATE QUESTION

Mark 12:35-37

After Jesus withstands the challenges of his opposition and answers some hard questions with great wisdom, Mark tells us that no one else dared to ask him any more questions. So now, Jesus decides that it’s his turn to ask a question. Jesus asks, “If David himself calls the Christ ‘Lord’ then how could the Christ be merely his son?”

Jesus is challenging everyone’s understanding concerning the identity of the Christ and the nature of the kingdom of God. Contrary to the people’s understanding of the Christ and the kingdom of God, Jesus declares that the Christ cannot be reduced to just a future Son of David; he is the eternal Son of God and the promised Savior-King who reigns over the heavenly kingdom that will one day be fully established here on earth. 

Jesus exposes the misunderstandings and the false expectations that many people in his society had about the Christ and the eternal kingdom of God, and he does so by asking a question that gets to the heart of the matter. He is essentially asking, “Who am I? Am I just human or am I more?”

Jesus is the most misunderstood and misrepresented figure in human history. Today, our society is full of misunderstandings and false expectations concerning Jesus and the eternal life that God gives. And so, as his representatives, may we boldly proclaim the truth about the kingdom of God. And may we start by simply asking others the ultimate question, “Who is Jesus?”

 

Coffee and a Question

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When we talk about reaching others, in a sense we are talking about what most people would refer to as evangelism. This means actively trying to share the good news about what God has done through Jesus with the hope that people will respond to this news by repenting and following Jesus as King.

However, one potential trap that many people fall into is that if we’re not considerate in our efforts to do this, we begin to come across like a "Christian-salesman" peddling Jesus as our product and strictly focusing on ‘closing the deal’ and moving on to the next customer.

In order to avoid such a trap, I would like to propose a little bit more casual and sincere approach to reaching others. It's an approach that requires nothing extra added to your daily routine except a little more focus on the people around you and how you interact with them. It is so easy that we can simply call this approach, Coffee and a Question.

The Coffee and a Question approach goes something like this: You invite someone you know to join you for a cup of coffee, and then when you actually meet for coffee you ask them this simple question, "So what's your story?" Reaching others can begin with something as simple as drinking coffee with someone and asking them, "So what's your story?"

Once you're at the table with someone, and you've asked them this question, the hardest part is over. Now, you must simply enjoy the time together and let this person experience the love and goodness of God that ought to be noticeable in you.

We must remember what it means to be living temples with the Spirit of God dwelling within us. This means that people ought to experience the presence of God every time they experience our presence.    

And so, to give us some direction in what this should look like, I want to give us four words that ought to describe our presence as we are sitting across the table with someone - Listen, Learn, Love & Language.

Listen

Too many of us are too quick to talk too much. In our effort to share the good news of Jesus, we feel this urge to immediately start talking to people about our faith, our church, our small group, our view on culture, our view on politics, our preference in books or music until we feel like we’ve gotten the message across in some form or fashion. We act this way and then when people seemed turned off by what we have to say we chalk it up to their own hardness of heart.

The problem here should be obvious. Nobody wants to be talked to and treated as if their opinions, beliefs, doubts and worldview are inferior, unimportant or irrelevant. Nobody wants to be constantly talked to and yet never listened to.

And so, to reach others, avoid talking to people and seek to talk with people.

Learn to be a good listener. 

So many of us start by looking for opportunities to talk to people, but what if instead we started by looking for opportunities to listen to people? People like to talk. Become a favorite sounding board for those you interact with. When others feel heard, they will be more receptive to hear you.

Learn

It is important to be a good listener, but in our listening we need to be learning. This is what distinguishes a good listener from someone who is just good at letting people talk. We don’t listen for the sake of listening to someone; we listen for the sake of learning as much as we can about that person.

Again, there is a temptation to immediately try and teach others about our faith. But this can often come across inconsiderate and therefore ineffective. And again, we cannot just ignorantly blame it on the person we are trying to reach. 

And so to reach others, make it a priority to try and learn more about someone before you try to teach them anything.

Learn to ask good questions. 

This commitment to learn as much as you can about the people you are trying to reach will help you tremendously when the opportunity comes to actually share something with them. When you know more about their background, tendencies, desires, insecurities and goals you will be able to more thoughtfully discern why they view the world the way they view it. And when others feel known and understood, then they’ll listen to you.

Love

The more you learn about another person, the easier you will find it to actually love that person. Also, this person will be more likely to feel loved by you because they feel known and understood by you. You are able to serve this person in the very specific and targeted ways that they need it the most. 

We all know that we are commanded to love our neighbor, but too many of us are defining loving our neighbor as being nice to people around us. Although being nice is certainly part of it, simply trying hard not to be mean to people is not the same as loving your neighbor. 

And so, to reach others, start going out of your way to serve the people around you.

If you find out someone is struggling in some way, invite them to have coffee and just spend time with them. When people experience sincere love from you, they will begin to trust you.

Language

Perhaps this will be the most difficult adjustment for many of us. In our daily conversations with the people around us, we tend to talk most about work, weather, food and sports. We desperately need more substance to the things we are saying. 

In his book, Follow Me, David Platt describes how many of us can have conversations all day without ever mentioning God at all. He says that we have a tendency to talk like atheists. Platt urges us to start making an effort to weave the good news of Jesus into the fabric of our conversations and interaction with the people around us. Others need to hear us speak about God as someone we know, love, experience and worship.

And so, to reach others, use language that acknowledges who God is and what he has done for you.

Learn to speak about God.    
 
Do the people around you know how grateful you are for your reconciled relationship with God? Why would we expect others to want a relationship with God if they have never even heard us speak about ours? Is there anything in your life more worth acknowledging than your reconciled relationship with God?

When it’s important to you, it will be interesting to others.

The Follow Up

And this leads us to a very important step in the Coffee and a Question approach - the follow up. You have spent some time listening to the person's story and learning more about their background, tendencies, desires, insecurities and goals. Now, actively love this person by asking this question, "Would you mind if I prayed with you real quick about _____?" 

All you're doing is picking out something important that you have learned about them during your time together and asking if you can pray with them about that particular thing. This is a way to love this person immediately and to let them experience the language of a life that loves and trusts God.

If the person declines the prayer then don't pray, tell them you enjoyed the time together and ask if they'd like to do it again sometime (go ahead and try to set an actual date). If the person accepts the prayer then pray with them, tell them you enjoyed the time together and ask if they'd like to do it again sometime (go ahead and try to set an actual date). Depending on how this first meeting together went, next time you will either ask more questions about something that was shared or if appropriate you can share your story with them which may present an opportunity to share the gospel with them.

So that's the Coffee and a Question approach to reach others, and an entry point to our mission of making disciples of Jesus. If we can remember the words listen, learn, love and language then we should have a good perspective on how to actually execute this approach.

Some of the more practical applications in this stage are:

  • Take advantage of opportunities to listen to people.

  • Ask good questions.

  • Look for opportunities to do random acts of kindness.

  • Acknowledge your relationship with God in conversation.

  • Ask to pray with the person about something they shared.

I mentioned at the beginning that this stage is what many people would define as evangelism. And although there are definitely evangelistic aspects to this stage, I do not think it is helpful to view this stage as the evangelistic stage and then the rest as more discipleship focused. The two should actually never be separated. Making disciples is the commission. 

Our mission is not to make converts or believers but to make disciples of Jesus and to teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded. Therefore, we must realize that camping out in this stage is not carrying out the great commission. We seek to reach others hoping for the opportunity to also one day be given the privilege to teach them a new way of life and a new way of seeing the world based on the life and teachings of Jesus.