Prayer

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.

A Disciple's Prayer

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What if Jesus was serious when he said, “I want you to pray like this”?

Sometimes we struggle with prayer because we are unsure of what to say or we feel like we’ve run out of things to say. But Jesus taught his disciples exactly what to say, and he wanted them to say it regularly.

Over the past few weeks, I have been studying the Lord’s Prayer which I actually think should be called a Disciple’s Prayer instead. I don’t say that in order to criticize tradition or to be cute with words; I say that because it is a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, and one that he expected them to memorize and pray regularly. As I’ve studied this prayer over the last few weeks, I feel like I am rediscovering something that has been hidden in plain sight, and it all started by me finally asking a basic question:

Why did Jesus actually teach his disciples a very specific prayer, and why did he choose the particular words and phrases that he chose?

I am learning that this prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is so much more profound than we often realize, and that it was given for a specific purpose that we often miss. Part of the problem is that we have to really understand what Jesus saw himself accomplishing in order to understand his motives for giving his disciples this specific prayer.

Jesus saw himself as the one who had come to inaugurate the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not simply the way to go to heaven when you die but rather the way to participate in God’s mission of reconciling heaven and earth. And it’s in the context of this mission that Jesus saw himself accomplishing that we are to understand this specific prayer that he teaches his disciples. This is a prayer that is meant to keep us focused on participating in the kingdom-movement that Jesus inaugurated.

As N.T. Wright puts it:

“The prayer says: I want to be part of his kingdom-movement. I find myself drawn into his heaven-on-earth way of living.”

This prayer sums up Jesus’ own life and ministry, and it keeps us focused on the new way of life and the new way of seeing the world that ought to define every disciple of Jesus. We can better understand this prayer by looking at its five big areas focus: The Father, The Kingdom, Daily Bread, Forgiveness, and Deliverance.

The Father

“Our Father in heaven, may your name be holy and treated with honor”

Jesus wants us to remember who it is that we are praying to. We are not praying to a general God who is distant and difficult to know on a meaningful level. We are praying to the God who has made himself known through the life and work of Jesus. Jesus even went as far to say that if you have seen him then you have seen the Father.

Jesus also wants us to remember that it is our responsibility as his disciples to represent the Father to the rest of the world and to honor him in the presence of others. The tragic story of humanity is that we have misrepresented God and dishonored his name. But Jesus came on a mission declaring that it’s time for the Father to receive the honor that he deserves. Therefore, praying this prayer keeps us aware of the fact that we are representing the name of God everywhere that we go and in everything that we say. This prayer helps us stay concerned about the Father’s reputation and committed to honoring him in the presence of others.

The Kingdom

“May your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus wants us to remember the very thing that his life and work was all about — the inauguration of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is God’s plan for reconciling heaven and earth, and we have been called to repent and to participate in that mission.

The kingdom comes as more and more people swear their allegiance to the Father as King, and his will is done as his people obey him and do the kinds of things that he desires for us to do. Therefore, praying this prayer keeps us focused on doing what God wants us to do in everyday life, and it sets our sights back on actively participating in God’s kingdom-movement that is reconciling heaven and earth.

Daily Bread

“Please give us today our daily bread”

Jesus intentionally uses the phrase “daily bread” to remind his people of God’s provision for his people in the wilderness in-between their former life in Egypt and their future life in the Promised Land. God’s people had to learn how to depend on God for everything that they needed.

Jesus wants us to see that we too are in a “wilderness period” where we have been set free from our former life, but we are still on the way to life in the eternal Promised Land. And so, Jesus wants us to learn how to depend on God for everything that we need. This prayer helps us cultivate a mindset that views each day’s basic provisions as a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s a regular reminder of our neediness and helps us remain aware of the neediness of others.

Forgiveness

“Forgive us of our sin as we also have forgiven those who wrong us.”

Jesus wants us to remember the radical forgiveness that God has granted us and the radical forgiveness that we must grant to others. Forgiveness is an essential element of a disciple of Jesus and the kingdom of God. The natural way of life in this world is to get even with those who wrong us, but Jesus wants us to embrace a new way of life where we give up our right to retaliate and choose to extend unconditional and unmerited forgiveness instead.

This is so important to Jesus that he actually adds an additional footnote after the prayer in Matthew 6:14-15 where he strongly but straightforwardly declares that if you outright refuse to forgive someone then you are showing that you have not truly internalized and understood the grace of God and the heart of the gospel. This prayer reminds us of the radical forgiveness that God has granted us, and it is a regular reminder that we must forgive everyone who betrays us or hurts us no matter how hard that might be.

Deliverance

“Please don’t lead us into a time of testing but deliver us from evil”

Lastly, Jesus ends with this sober reminder that if we embrace this new way of life, then we can expect opposition, temptation and times of testing. Each time we pray, Jesus wants us to remember that being his disciple means that we are willing to be led by the Father and that sometimes we may be led towards situations that we do not like or that we do not want.

We can ask God to not lead us into places that we don’t want to go, but then we must let it go and trust him. It’s essentially like saying, “Please don’t lead me into a time of testing and struggle, but if you do then please strengthen me and deliver me from being overcome by it or subjected to any powers of evil.”

Praying this prayer helps us remember that the Father is the great Savior and Deliverer of his people. He always has been, and he always will be. This prayer helps us to remember the presence, the power and the goodness of God no matter what situation or circumstance might be heading our way.

Conclusion

And so, that is a disciple’s prayer as taught by Jesus himself. This is a prayer that is meant to keep us focused on participating in the kingdom-movement that Jesus inaugurated. Jesus was serious when he told his disciples, “I want you to pray like this.”

We should never be at a lost for words when it comes to prayer. Jesus has told us what to say, and he wants us to say it often. Jesus expected his disciples to memorize this prayer and to pray it regularly. And so, let’s rediscover this treasure that’s been hidden in plain sight and let’s start each day with the prayer of a disciple.

We Have Access

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I know I'm not the only one, but I must confess that there are too many days in my life where I overlook the incredible privilege of having access to the Creator of the universe. I have been given the freedom to come to him with all my cares and concerns, and yet I don't. 

There's a story that Jesus once told about a woman's persistence, and in that story he gives us a profound perspective on the kind of freedom that we have in coming to God. He said: 

“In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”

And then Jesus ends this story with the following teaching point:

“Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?"

You see, like the persistent widow in the story, we have been given an open invitation to bother God with our prayers. Persistence in prayer that is coming from a heart that is pure is something that pleases God, and it also honors him as the Sovereign Authority over all everything that happens in this life. 

However, in our persistence, we must also remember who we are approaching each time that we pray and then approach him with the kind of posture that is appropriate. I think sometimes we can view our open invitation as something that we have earned in some way. I think sometimes we point to a decision that we have made or the kind of life that we are living and assume that we have reached a level of spirituality that warrants God's attention.

We need to remember that we only have access because we've been given a credential. 

Our free access to God has not been granted because of who we are or something that we have done; it has been granted to us because of who Christ is and what he has done.

If I tried to walk into Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland by myself, it wouldn't take long before I was stopped and escorted back outside. But if I walked in with Lebron James, it would be a different story. I would be granted free access because of who Lebron is, and what he has accomplished. My relationship with Lebron would give me a credential to the arena in Cleveland.      

In the same way, Christ is the required credential for entering into the presence of God. We have an open invitation to bother the Creator but only because of our relationship with Christ.  

So lets approach God persistently but lets make sure to mix in the appropriate amount of humility. And lets rejoice in the freedom that we have in prayer but lets remember why we have it.

 

Coffee and Quiet Time

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I am a regular at the local coffee shop in Downtown Woodstock as it has become my own personal office. Rather than playing zone defense in an attempt to defend my privacy from four children under the age of eight, I sit quietly at my favorite table up against the wooden bleacher seating unique to Copper Coin Coffee in Woodstock, Georgia. This coffee shop get-a-way is an application of wisdom and discernment on my part. As I sit there each week and cherish my Ethiopian pour-over, I seek to take advantage of this quiet time. It is here that I often find the Holy Spirit subtly offering His wisdom aimed directly at my heart.

I am a drink person. I love coffee every morning, hot tea from time to time, and some sort of special beverage in the evening. I have a method to my morning madness that includes a handheld coffee grinder, fresh roasted coffee beans, a Hario kettle for the water and my own Aeropress to bring it all together. I love this part of my morning. And as you can see, I love sitting at the local coffee shop and enjoying various kinds of coffee from all over the world. 

Therefore, it doesn’t take much to conclude that coffee is something I desire, and something that I go out of my way for each and every day to enjoy. If I was to go a day without a cup, I’d miss it — not necessarily the caffeine but the experience. 

I cherish and desire these quiet times with a cup of coffee, but what about quiet time with my Father in heaven? 

Do I cherish and desire communion with God each and every day and pursue Him with the same consistency that I pursue a good cup of coffee? What about you? Would a day without any coffee (or your own item of pleasure) be a bigger deal to you than a day without any thoughtful conversation with God? This may sound ridiculous (thats debatable), but there's some truth here.

In His great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands us as His followers to go out of our way each and every day to enjoy our Father’s presence in prayer. He says,

"But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." - Jesus

Prayer is without question the most important practice in our Christian life. Prayer is without a doubt “the highest activity of the human soul.” There is nothing greater for a man to undertake or to experience than pure communion with his Maker. But if we are honest with ourselves, we might have to admit that it is often the hardest thing to practice in our Christian life as well. 

Is there anything more difficult in the Christian life than a sincere and serious commitment to speak with God in prayer? How much easier do we find it to speak with everyone else around us than we find it to speak with God? Do we not find ourselves with much less to say when we are alone in silence with God than with others out in public? Therefore, what does it tell us about our own Christian condition when we examine the time we spend alone with God?

As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it:

“It is when we have left the realm of activities and outward dealings with other people, and are alone with God, that we really know where we stand in a spiritual sense. It is not only the highest activity of the human soul, it is the ultimate test of our true spiritual condition.”

Study the history of great men throughout church history, and you will see the seriousness with which they approached this issue of prayer. It’s a seriousness we see also in the lives of the disciples. The disciples watched the way Jesus spent time and spoke to His Father in prayer, and they desperately wanted what He seemed to have. They saw how He would get up early before the sunrise and how He’d go up alone upon the mountain and how He’d spend the whole night in prayer with His Father.

There is little doubt that this is what lead them to humbly beg, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” They wanted to pray like He was praying. They wanted to know God like He knew Him. They wanted to enjoy the Father’s presence in the same way that Jesus seemed to enjoy Him.

Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach; only how to pray.

Jesus tells us to seek God in the secret places and that is where He awaits for us. May we join the disciples in asking, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” We should desperately desire quiet time with our Father and go out of our way to have it. We need to shut out the world and shut ourselves in with God. May our Father in Heaven free us from the thought of prayer ever being a duty or a burden and may the secret place with our Father be our most cherished and desired place on earth.