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Monday, April 22, 2024

Trials and Temptations

We’re working our way through a study of the Epistle of James—lesson by lesson.  Last week, we discovered the writer of James was the brother of the Lord Jesus.  He was the biological son of Mary and Joseph and grew up in the same household as Jesus.  At first, he didn’t believe in Jesus.  But after Jesus died and rose from the grave, James believed and became one of the leaders of the early Christian church. 

The Epistle of James is short—only 5 chapters—but it is packed full of powerful, practical wisdom.  The reading today is a perfect example.  In just these few verses, we have several words of advice.  Let’s go back through each of them.

James 1:2-4
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Joy is not the emotion most of us would associate with trials.  Yet, James suggests that trials are not just obstacles but opportunities—opportunities to grow in faith and endurance.  These difficulties test our faith, and through perseverance, our character is refined and strengthened. And a mature faith equips us to handle life's challenges with a steadier hand and a more hopeful heart. 

James is not suggesting we become masochists—who seek out and derive pleasure from painful ordeals.  We’re not happy about the trials, but can be overjoyed about the fruit we gain when we trust God in the midst of our trials.  James says they make us perfect, complete, needing nothing.

And consider this:  You will never get to go through the trials of life ever again in eternity.  We often talk about how great eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven witll be, where there will be no more sickness or suffering or pain.  But we often forget, God put us on this earth for a reason.  And we only get to experience life in this way (broken as it is) one time for maybe 80-90 years.  We never get to do this again.  Let's not miss this once in an eternity opportunity to learn and grow from the struggles we face.

Slides – James 1:5-8
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking.  But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

2 Points
James gives two points of practical advice here.  First of all, when you’re going through trials:  ask for God’s wisdom.  That’s not what we normally do.  We may ask for God to take away the challenge; heal us; make the problem go away; etc.  But James says, “Ask for wisdom.”  Proverbs 3:14 says wisdom is better than silver and gold.  In other words, it one of the most precious things you can gain in life.  Don’t miss the precious chance to gain wisdom through your trials just because you want God to make your life easy.

The second point James makes is a warning.  Make sure you’re putting your faith in Jesus alone and not the world.  People have a tendency to want to hedge their bets.  Let’s take an example:  suppose you are facing a huge trial—maybe you have cancer.  So you pray for Jesus to heal you.  But while you’re at it, you decide it can’t hurt to pray to the Muslim god, Allah.  And you figure, you might as well pray to the Hindu gods of India and the native America gods and African gods of animism.  You figure, “I’ll take all the help I can get.”  James says, a person like that shouldn’t expect to “receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world…”  And he says, “They’re unstable.”  Let us never forget, there is only One True and Living God.  And He will not share you with any other supposed god.  You must be loyal to Him and Him alone.  You are either all in with Jesus Christ—who is Lord of all—or you are not in at all.

James 1:9-11
Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.

Let Go of Worldly Concepts of Wealth and StatusVerses 9-11 reminds everyone, regardless of your social or economic status, put your hope in God alone. The poor are reminded to take pride in their high position—because the Lord Jesus Christ lifts them up.  The rich are reminded of their vulnerability—like a wildflower, their wealth will fade away.  They could lose it in the blink of an eye.  In fact, they will lose it all when they die.  For whatever wealth you have in this life will be gone forever in the next.  You cannot take your possessions with you.  In heaven, we will all be on equal social and economic footing. 

This passage calls us to embrace humility, recognizing that our true value comes from our relationship with God, not our earthly status or possessions.  It’s a liberating mindset—reminding us all to live authentically and with compassion, appreciating our blessings and empathizing with others regardless of their or our circumstances.

And then in verses 12-15, James tells us the blessings that will last forever actually come from the trials of this life.

James 1:12-15
God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

Tests and Temptations
While our earthly wealth and treasures will fade away like flowers in a field, the blessings we inherit from testing and temptation will last forever.  These become a crown of life if we endure and are faithful. 

God is the giver of all good things.  God does not tempt us.  Temptation comes from the Devil and from our own selfish, internal desires.  God uses both the tests and temptations we face in life for our own good—to expose and root out the ungodly attitudes and characteristics inside us keep us from being all we are meant to be.  And when we endure trials, our faith grows stronger and we learn endurance.

Slides – James 1:16-18
So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.

Today, we've explored how trials can be a source of joy, how wisdom from God is our priceless aid,
how humility guides our conduct, and how perseverance leads to divine rewards.

This week, I challenge each of you to reflect on the trials you are facing.  Can you see them as opportunities for growth?  Seek God's wisdom in prayer, approach life with humility, and strive to persevere.

We say we believe in Jesus.  We believe He faced the cruel cross of Calvary.
We believe He rose from the grave.  His death and ressurection won our freedom and eternal life.
Now, let’s do more than just say we believe.  Let’s put our faith into action.
Let's live out our faith, embracing each day with courage and hope,
counting all trials as joy, because they lead to eternal rewards that we will possess forever.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Hello. My Name Is James.

Today, I'm begin a study through the Epistle of James.  James is a power packed letter filled with practical advice for living as a Christian in an unchristian world.  Therefore, we are going to take out time and work our way through the letter slowly, lesson by lesson so we don't miss anything, because everything in this letter is important.  I invite you to follow along each week as we learn everything we can from this short but important book in the New Testament.  Let's start at the very beginning.

James 1:1
This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.

Writing Letters
My wife and I wrote a lot of letters to each other when we were dating.  In high school, we would pass notes back and forth regularly.  Then I moved away for college and we wrote each other letters every week.  We still have those letters packed away in boxes somewhere in storage.

Much of the New Testament in the Bible is a collection of letters written by early church leaders.  Today, we may think of letters as out of date.  Few write letters anymore, other than for very official purposes.  Most chose to use email or instant messages.  But in New Testament times, writing letters was sort of a cutting edge new technology for common people.  It is true that people wrote letters way back into very ancient times--millennia before the New Testament.  But ancient letter writing was typically reserved for royal officials because writing materials were very expensive, few were literate to read and write, and there was no post service to send letters long distances.

But by New Testament times, several factors came together at just the right time to aid the spread of the Good News about Jesus Christ.  Writing materials became cheaper and available to common people.  More people could read using the common Greek language almost everyone spoke to some degree.  And due to the expansive Roman Empire with well maintained roads and shipping routes, mail could be sent from one end of the Empire the other.  The writers of the New Testament took full advantage of this to spread the message that Jesus, the Son of God, had been crucified and then rose from the grave.

You may have learned in school letters have a general structure.  First, a letter has a heading that tells who it's from and who it's to.  Then, there is the salutation where you say, "Dear So and So..."  Next comes the body of the letter that contains the main points, followed by the closing:  "Sincerely, Your Best Friend Chris."  We often find similar patterns in the letters from the New Testament, like James.

Most letters in the New Testament are written by the Apostle Paul.  Paul was a prolific letter writer and many of his letters have been preserves in the Bible.  however, the Epistle of James by a man named James, who had his own style or writing and his unique perspective on living as a faithful Christian.

Who is James?
Who is James?  In the letter, James says: "I am a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ."

What is a slave?  In 1st century Israel, a slave was typically considered property of the owner, lacking personal freedom and autonomy.  People entered slavery due to debt, poverty, as a penalty for crime, or possibly if conquered in battle.  While slaves sometimes had legal protections under various legal codes, they were still fundamentally bound to serve their masters' needs.  And since a slaves master was the one with all the power, abuse was rampant despite any laws on the books to protect slaves. 

We don't like the word slave is the 21st century.  Some Bible translations try to sanitize the word from the New Testament and change it to servant.  However, servant doesn't really capture the essence of the meaning the biblical writers were trying to convey.  Servant is too nice a word.  The Greek word the Bible uses is doulos, which  literally means bondservant, a person who sold themselves into slavery to repay a debt they had no means to repay.  A bondservant doesn't just work for their master; they are owned by their master.

Slavery is a dirty word to our ears for many reasons. People were never meant to be owned by other people.  It is an abomination.  Another reason against slavery is it creates a serious imbalance of power. Human masters cannot be trusted to hold so much power over another human being—even if that person willingly submits to being a slave.  People sometimes can't even be trusted to properly care for a dog or cat, let alone another human being.  Perhaps that is why it is such a fearful responsibility to become a parent.  A parent has nearly absolute power and authority over a fragile human life--their child.  And parents do not always know what to do nor do they always chose the best thing to do.  Yet this is the nature of human life.  Parents beget children and (hopefully) do their best to exercise benevolent authority over their children for nearly two decades until their children are old enough to become independent.

James self-identifies as a slave of--not another human being, but--God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  And based on Scripture, God is a good and worthy Master.  He always seeks the good of His slaves.  He doesn’t treat people like slaves.  In fact, Jesus (who is God) said in John 15:15, I no longer call you slaves, but friends…”  But James calls himself a slave. 

Who is this James?  Do we know anything about him?  We do!  And it is fascinating!
The Bible says Jesus had brothers and sisters.  Matthew 13:55 says His 4 brothers were James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude.  James is always listed first, which typically means he was the oldest of Jesus’ younger brothers.  After Jesus was crucified, James would be the eldest living brother of Christ, responsible for being the head of the household.  And according tradition and most scholars, the James who wrote the Epistle of James was Jesus' younger brother. 

As far as we know, Jesus never wrote anything down Himself; or if He did, none of it survived.  So we don't have anything written directly from Jesus.  But in this letter from James, we may have the closest thing to the hand of Jesus.  James grew up with Jesus, spent some 20-30 years with Him.  He knew him through all the years that the Scripture writes about as well as what the Scripture leaves unmentioned.  And as we read the letter of James, we're reading the thoughts of a man who knew Jesus deeply and personally the way only a brother sometimes can.

Now, James and his other brothers didn’t believe in Jesus at first.  Maybe it's hard to think of your brother in such divine terms as being "the Son of God".  Can you imagine growing up the brother of Jesus Christ?  I can imagine Mary getting upset with James from time to time over something stupid he did (mistakes all mortal people make).  Maybe, in frustration, she said something like, “Why can’t you be more like your brother Jesus!”  And maybe James smarted off to Mary with, “Oh!  Jesus is so perfect!  You act like he walks on water!”  Of course, I'm being facetious, but on a serious note, I guess it might have been hard to grow up in the shadow of "the Son of God" or to think of your older brother as the long awaited Messiah.

At any rate, Jesus' brothers did not believe in Him at first.  Mark 3:20 says Jesus’ brother thought He was out if his mind.  They came and tried to take Him away so He didn't stir up trouble.  But at some point, probably after Jesus actually died and rose from the grave as He said He would, James became a believer.  You might think James would trumpet his status as Jesus’ brother.  “Listen to me.  I’m Jesus’ brother!”  But James doesn’t do that at all.  Instead, he humbles himself and says,  “I’m a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

To Whom Was James Writing?
Letters are written from someone to someone.  To whom was James writing?  He says, “I’m writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.”  What does that mean?  

The term "Twelve Tribes" was a cultural term among Jewish people that recalled their tribal history.  They started out as twelve tribes and had often experienced trials and tribulations that scattered them abroad.  In fact, there were no longer 12 tribes.  10 of the tribes had been scattered into oblivion when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians.  All the inhabitants of the northern 10 tribes were carried away and never seen again as a distinct people group.  The 2 tribes that remained were Judah and Benjamin.  The Jewish people derive their name from the tribe of Judah.  And even they had experienced a great deal of "scattering" over the centuries.

At this stage in Christian history, almost all Christians were Jewish believers.  Scholars sometimes point out James was writing to Jewish Christians, not Gentiles Christians.  Some of you who are serious students of the Bible have probably heard that.  But that’s kind of a pointless argument.  Almost all Christians were “Jewish” at this point in Christian history.

The real point here is that believers (Christians) are being scattered because they are fleeing persecution.  The Jews who believed Jesus is the Messiah who rose from the grave are being kicked out of their churches (synagogues) by the Jews who didn't believe.  And at the same time, they are being ostracized in their communities, leading some to lose their livelihoods.  Others are being badly persecuted, some arrested.  Some are even being beaten or killed.  It was a difficult and dangerous time for Christians and many had to flee their homes and move away to new towns seeking safety.

God did not let these early Christians suffering go to waste.  As they are scatter, they go from town to town telling people about Jesus every where they go.  So Christianity is spreading, not being silenced.  And the Apostles, like Peter, James, and John as sending letters to these scattering Jewish Christians--creating a written record of the early Christian faith, which we have preserved in the New Testament of our Bibles.

Unfortunately, being scattered can make you feel lonely and really tests your faith.  You are tempted to just keep your mouth shut about Jesus, even though Jesus commanded His followers to speak up for Him.  And that’s one of the reasons James is writing—to encourage Christians who feel lost and lonely in a world that doesn’t have their same values.

Feel Like You Don’t Belong?
Do you ever feel like you don’t belong in a world where people seem so mean, angry, unloving, judgmental, and immoral?  I know I do sometimes.

The world around me right here in America is becoming foreign in many ways.  Sometimes it feels like common sense and common decency have been flipped upside down.  

But I know there are others around the world that have it even worse. I texted with a Christian friend who lives in Pakistan the morning I wrote this message.  He lives in a country that is 95% Muslim.  Many in that country who practice a very militant form of Islam think people like my Christian friend are crazy or guilty of blasphemy.  Christians are face discrimination, are frequently persecuted, mistreated, falsely accused, arrested, and even killed.  I know they often feel scattered, lonely, and discouraged.

If you ever feel like I do or like my friend in Pakistan, like a remnant of the faithful believers scattered in a lost and hostile world, James is a letter written to encourage you to be faithful and not give up.  But James is more than just clich├ęs and platitudes. James is a real talk.  In 5 short chapters, James shares powerful, practical wisdom about how to live as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Whereas other writers often focus on philosophy and theology, James gets down to brass tacks and focuses how Christians live out faith in actions—not just beliefs.

Every paragraph in James is important.  So we’re going to take our time and work our way through James slowly, lesson by lesson.  And I hope you will come each week and pay close attention.  And I challenge you to go deeper in your walk with Jesus, deeper than just what you believe, as you learn to live out your Christian faith by what you do day to day.

James was Jesus’ brother.  But anyone who give their life to Christ and becomes a Christian is a brother of sister of Christ.  We are not alone.  We are part of a royal family—the family of God.  If you are a Christian, you are my brother, my sister.  You are not alone.  We are in this together. 

In the Old Testament, Jews inistiated their children into the people of God by circumcising their children on their 8th day.  For Christians, baptism is the sacred ceremony we use to initiate people into the family of God.  It is a sacrament Jesus told us to practice that God uses to pour out His grace upon us.  No one deserves God’s grace.  But He gives it freely to all who repent and seek His help.  

I want to close today by inviting your to become a Christian.  If you believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and Savior of the world who died on the cross and rose on the third day, then chose today to follow Him.  Turn away from your sin and turn to Jesus and He will save you.  You will become a child of God, my brother or sister.  And though you may sometimes feel alone in this hostile world, you will never actually be alone.  For you will be part of the family of God with brothers and sisters all over the world.  And even more important, Jesus will walk with you through everything you face by the Holy Spirit that lives inside you.  

And if you have if you have never been officially baptized and initiated into God's family, I invite you to schedule your baptism today.  If you live close to me, contact me and we will talk about how you can be baptized.  Or, find a faithful, Bible-believing church near you, and be baptized in obedience of Christ our Lord and in expectation of the grace baptism represents.

Finally, I challenge to read this blog each week as we work our way through the powerful letter of James.  I usually post my blogs each Monday.  I pray you will read and receive the blessings and guidance God wants to give through my feeble words.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

21 Ways to Pray (plus variations, bonuses, and tips)

I focused on prayer in my personal life during the 40 days of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. I heard recently that prayer is the engine that drives life. The illustration was of car. You can have a beautiful, shiny car with brand new tires and an immaculate interior, but it won't take you anywhere if it doesn't have an engine; it's pretty useless. In your life, you may impress people with your outward appearance by saying and doing the right things, but you won't get anywhere without prayer. Prayer is the engine that moves us spiritually. And prayer is so much more than we think. Here are 21 different ways of pray, plus several bonuses, variations, and tips. I pray these will help you go deeper in prayer and connect you to the power of God to move your life.

1. Simple Prayer
Richard Foster names 21 types of prayer in his book "Prayer".  The first type is "Simple Prayer".  Simple Prayer is coming to God just as we are, without pretense, sharing our thoughts, feelings, joys, and sorrows. It's the foundation of a prayer life, emphasizing honesty and openness with God, akin to a child speaking to a loving parent. This form of prayer encourages us to lay down our complexities and approach God with simplicity and sincerity.  You don't have to do anything special.  You just talk to God.

2. Prayer of the Forsaken
Prayer of the Forsaken is when we cry out to God from a place of feeling abandoned or distant. It mirrors Jesus' own cry on the cross, helping us to express our deepest doubts and fears to God, trusting that He is with us even when He seems far away. This prayer teaches us that it's okay to question and wrestle with God's presence in our lives.

3. The Prayer of the Examen
The Prayer of Examen is a reflective practice that involves reviewing our day in the presence of God, identifying moments where we felt closest to or furthest from Him. It encourages gratitude for God's presence and asks for His guidance in recognizing His work in our lives, helping us to notice and respond to God's daily invitations.

4. The Prayer of Tears
The Prayer of Tears allows us to bring our deepest hurts, grief, and sorrow before God, trusting Him with our vulnerabilities. It acknowledges that it's okay to cry and be broken before God, who comforts us and collects our tears as a testament to our trust in His presence and healing.

5. The Prayer of Relinquishment
The Prayer of Relinquishment is about letting go of our desires and outcomes, surrendering our will to God's will. It's a practice of trust, where we release control and open ourselves to God's plans, finding peace in the midst of uncertainty and faith in God's goodness.

6. Formation Prayer
Formation Prayer focuses on allowing God to shape and mold our inner being, aligning our hearts, minds, and wills with His. It's a prayer of transformation, seeking to become more like Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, fostering spiritual growth and maturity.

7. The Prayer of Adoration
The Prayer of Adoration centers on praising God for who He is, beyond what He does for us. It's an expression of love and worship, acknowledging God's greatness, goodness, and sovereignty, drawing us into a posture of awe and reverence.

8. The Prayer of Rest
The Prayer of Rest is about finding peace and rest in God's presence, trusting Him beyond our understanding or efforts. It encourages us to cease striving, to relax in God's love and care, and to find rejuvenation and strength in His sovereignty.

9. Sacramental Prayer
Sacramental Prayer sees the sacred in the ordinary, recognizing and celebrating God's presence in rituals and everyday moments. It bridges the spiritual and physical, inviting us to encounter God through tangible means and acknowledging His grace in all aspects of life.

10. Unceasing Prayer
Unceasing Prayer is the practice of maintaining a constant awareness of God's presence throughout our daily activities. It teaches us to turn every thought, word, and action into a prayer, fostering a deep, ongoing communion with God.

11. The Prayer of the Heart
The Prayer of the Heart is a silent, wordless prayer where the heart communes directly with God. It transcends language, focusing on the deep inner connection between the believer and the Divine, often leading to profound experiences of God's presence and love.

12. Intercessory Prayer
Intercessory Prayer involves praying on behalf of others, lifting their needs, concerns, and situations before God. It's a powerful way to express love and compassion, standing in the gap for those around us and believing in God's power to intervene.

13. Healing Prayer
Healing Prayer seeks God's healing touch for physical, emotional, or spiritual wounds. It's an act of faith, inviting God's restorative power into our lives or the lives of others, acknowledging His ability to heal and transform.

14. The Prayer of Suffering
The Prayer of Suffering joins our own sufferings with those of Christ, offering them up for the benefit of others or as a form of intercession. It's a profound expression of solidarity with the suffering of Jesus, finding purpose and redemption in our own pain.

15. Authoritative Prayer
Authoritative Prayer uses the authority granted to us through Jesus to pray against evil and for the establishment of God's kingdom on earth. It's a bold form of prayer that confronts darkness with the power of Christ's victory, asserting God's rule and reign in various situations.

16. The Prayer of Radical Commitment
The Prayer of Radical Commitment is a total surrender to God, dedicating our lives fully to His service and glory. It's a decisive step of faith, choosing to follow God's calling and purposes above all else, regardless of the cost.

17. Prayer of the Ordinary
Prayer of the Ordinary finds God in the mundane aspects of life, celebrating His presence in everyday moments. It encourages us to see the divine in the ordinary, fostering a sense of sanctity and gratitude in all aspects of life.

18. Prayer of Petition
Prayer of Petition brings our personal needs, desires, and concerns before God, asking for His help and provision. It's a form of prayer that expresses our dependence on God, trusting Him to care for us in both big and small matters.

19. Corporate Prayer
Corporate Prayer is the collective prayer of a community, whether a church, family, or group of believers. It emphasizes the unity and power found in praying together, strengthening the community's faith and fostering a shared experience of God's presence.

20. Prayer of Thanksgiving
Prayer of Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude to God for His blessings, grace, and work in our lives. It's a reminder to acknowledge God's goodness and to cultivate a heart of thankfulness in all circumstances.

21. Prayer of Praise
Prayer of Praise joyfully acknowledges God's greatness, celebrating His attributes and acts. It's a prayer that elevates God above all else, rejoicing in His majesty and expressing our unwavering adoration and love.

BONUS (More Tips and Ways to Pray):

22. The Prayer of Abandonment
The Prayer of Abandonment is a profound form of prayer that involves surrendering oneself fully to God's will, especially in moments of feeling forsaken or in deep distress. It is characterized by a total relinquishment of one's own desires and plans, trusting God completely even when His presence feels distant or His plans unclear. This prayer reflects a deep faith and acceptance of God's sovereignty, embracing whatever comes as part of His divine purpose.

23. The Prayer of Waiting
The Prayer of Waiting is an act of stillness and patience in God's presence, trusting in His timing and wisdom without rushing for an immediate answer or outcome. It emphasizes the virtue of quiet trust and the relinquishment of control, allowing God to work in His own time and way.  “Lord, in this quiet moment, I wait for You. Teach me to rest in Your timing, embracing the peace that comes from trusting in Your perfect plans for my life. Amen.”

24. The Examen of Conscience
The Examen of Conscience involves a thoughtful reflection on our actions, thoughts, and emotions throughout the day, assessing them against our spiritual and moral values. This introspective practice helps identify areas of sin or neglect, prompting repentance and the desire for personal growth in alignment with God's will.

25. Meditative Prayer
In Meditative Prayer, we engage in focused reflection on Scripture, the nature of God, or spiritual truths. It emphasizes the importance of quieting the mind and heart to listen attentively to God's voice and presence, fostering a personal and transformative encounter with the Divine. This form of prayer cultivates a space for the soul to explore the depths of faith, enabling a deeper understanding and intimacy with God through thoughtful meditation and reflection.

26. Contemplative Prayer
Contemplative prayer
is a silent, loving encounter with God, characterized by resting in His presence rather than engaging in verbal communication. It's a deep form of prayer that seeks to experience God's presence intimately, beyond words or thoughts, fostering a profound spiritual union.  One way to practice this form of prayer would be to begin with a brief prayer or Scripture reading to center your thoughts on God.  Sit comfortably and breathe deeply.  Silently invite God into this time, expressing your desire to be with Him.  Let go of specific prayers, thoughts, and images. Embrace the silence, resting in God's presence. If your mind wanders, gently return your focus to God without judgment.  Listen: Stay open and receptive to God. Contemplative Prayer is more about listening to God than speaking to Him.  End your time of prayer with a moment of thanksgiving, acknowledging God's presence and the time spent together.

27. Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina, or "Divine Reading," is an ancient Christian practice that combines reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation of Scripture to foster a deeper communion with God. Through this four-step process, believers are invited to listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance, allowing God's Word to speak personally and transform their lives.  Methodi:  Take a reading from scripture; the psalms or parts of the prophets or epistles are most useful for this style of prayer.  Read through the text very slowly.  When you are struck by a word or a phrase STOP.  Stay with the words that moved you, maybe repeating them slowly, allowing them to sink into your heart. Only move on when you are quite ready.  Try to have an inner stillness so that you can perceive the gentle action of God.  Examples of texts you might use are:  Psalm 139:1-18;Isaiah 43:1-3;Romans 8:14-17, 28-39; 2 Timothy 1:6-10.

28. Prayers of Protection
Prayers of protection are
petitions to God for safeguarding against spiritual, physical, and emotional harm. These prayers invoke God's power to shield and deliver individuals or communities from evil, danger and deception, emphasizing trust in God's omnipotence and care. They serve as a reminder of the believer's reliance on God for security and the assurance that, even in times of peril, God's protective presence is a constant refuge.

29. Body Posture
Body Posture - In his book "Prayer," Richard Foster highlights the significance of body posture in enhancing the prayer experience, suggesting that physical positions, such as kneeling, standing, or lifting hands, can reflect and even deepen the intentions of the heart in prayer. He explains that these postures are not mere outward forms but can significantly impact the inward spirit of prayer, promoting humility, reverence, and openness to God. Foster encourages believers to consider how their physical posture can express and facilitate a more profound engagement with God during prayer.

Kneeling - Signifying humility and submission to God.

Standing - Reflecting respect and honor in God's presence.

Lifting Hands - Indicating surrender and a desire to receive from God.

Bowing - Expressing reverence and worship.

Prostration (lying face down) - Demonstrating utmost humility and dependency on God.

Walking - Used in walking prayers or labyrinths, symbolizing a spiritual journey or pilgrimage.

30. Dancing Prayer
The Tripudium is a form of sacred dance prayer mentioned by Richard Foster as an expression of joy and worship. It traditionally involves a pattern of three steps forward and one step back, symbolizing the dance's progression and occasional retreats in the spiritual journey. This rhythmic movement serves as a physical metaphor for the spiritual life, where the faithful advance in their relationship with God, encounter challenges or moments of reflection, and then continue forward. The Tripudium is celebrated as a way to engage the body in prayer and worship, embodying the joy and dynamism of the spiritual walk with God.  Click here for an example of the Tripudium dance.

31. Labyrinth Prayer
A labyrinth is used in prayer as a tool for meditation and spiritual reflection, offering a physical path that mirrors the journey of life and the inner journey of the soul towards God. Walking the labyrinth involves following a single, winding path to the center and back out again, which facilitates a contemplative state where one can meditate on Scripture and pray in the presence of God. This practice allows individuals to quiet their minds, focus on their spiritual walk, and seek clarity or guidance. The labyrinth serves as a metaphor for the twists and turns of life, inviting walkers to surrender their questions and burdens as they move towards the center, symbolizing a deeper communion with God, and then carrying back out into the world the peace and insights they have received.

32. Written Prayer
Another way to pray that has been helpful for me is to write out your prayers.  The writing process can help you collect your thoughts and refine your prayer into more specific terms.  Writing out your prayers can also serve to keep a record of your prayers (a prayer journal) that you can review later to see how your prayers have evolved and/or how God has answered your prayers.  Written prayers can also be left in special places.  There is a long tradition of writing short prayers and leaving them in the cracks of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

33. Breath Prayer
Breath Prayers are a simple practice that involves pairing a brief prayer with the rhythm of one's breathing. A short phrase or scripture that can be spoken in one breath is chosen to pray throughout the day. This form of prayer encourages mindfulness and constant communion with God. As one inhales and exhales, the prayer is silently repeated, embedding the prayer into the very act of breathing encouraging ongoing connection with God. This practice helps center the believer's thoughts on God's presence, offering peace and spiritual focus amidst the busyness of daily life.

34. The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer is a simple yet profound prayer consisting of the invocation: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It is designed to foster a continual awareness of God's presence and to facilitate a deepening of one's relationship with Christ through repetition, often in sync with one's breathing. The prayer embodies humility, repentance, and a heartfelt plea for God's mercy, making it a powerful tool for spiritual growth and contemplation.

35. Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is a method of Christian meditation that encourages practitioners to cultivate inner silence and a deeper awareness of God's presence by letting go of their own thoughts and emotions.
Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you. Let that word be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor.  Suggestions for centering words:  Peace, Love, Grace, Trust, Mercy, Light, or Presence.

36. Float Sessions with the Holy Spirit
Let me share a memorable prayer retreat I try to practice about once a year. It started a few years ago when my wife gifted me a float session at Lucidity Float in Chattanooga, TN. They provide 90 minute sessions in a specially designed float tank filled with highly concentrated salt water. The concentration is so high you float in the water. The tank is also enclosed and completely dark. It is a very relaxing, distressing experience (unless you are claustrophobic).  I also find it quite prayerful. My method is to choose a short verse to be my focus during the session. As I float silently in the pool of water, I concentrate on the verse as I slowly clear my mind of all else. It usually takes 15-30 minutes to get centered. My mind will wander to things I need to do, people I need to call, etc. But each time I realize my distraction, I gently return to my verse. Eventually, I am totally relaxed and my mind is clear and focused. It's hard to describe, but I enter a state halfway between awake and sleep. Sometimes I actually do drift off to sleep for a moment, but then I surface to an in-between state of consciousness centered in the Scripture I've chosen.  On my most recent float for my 50th birthday, I chose Jesus’ baptism from Matthew 3:16-17, especially the phrase “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Entering into a state of deep meditation, I received God's gracious affirmation that Christ is in my heart and therefore those words from Matthew 3:17 are for me too. I am His dearly loved son, and God is pleased with me. I imagined the Holy Spirit Dove descending on Jesus as He rose up out of the baptismal waters. Then, my mind wandered from the waters of Jesus’ baptism to the waters of creation in Genesis 1:2, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” This was a connection I had never thought of before. And I can't rightly say I thought of it then either. Rather, it was given to me by the Holy Spirit as I meditated on God's Word subconsciously. This “soaking in God's Word” was deeply refreshing and insightful as the Spirit guided my mind through many other moments in Scripture where the Spirit interacted with water--the dove soaring from Noah's ark to find dry land after the great flood, the holy presence of God in the pillar of fire and smoke parting the Red Sea to deliver His people from Egypt, Elisha's lost ax head floating to the surface of the Jordan River, the Ethiopian Eunuch being baptized by Philip before Philip is inexplicably carried away by the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is a powerful thing–refreshing and renewing, connecting and surrounding us with the power of God, the source and sustainer of life.  Delve deep into prayer.  Soak in it.  Float in it.  If you’d like to try a float session, you can read more about them and book appointments at this link.

37. In the Name of Jesus
Praying "In the Name of Jesus" signifies more than just appending a phrase at the end of a prayer. It is praying with the awareness and recognition of who Jesus is, His authority, and His will. To pray in Jesus' name means to pray in alignment with His character, purposes, and desires, as if Jesus Himself were making the request. It implies a deep relational understanding and connection with Christ, acknowledging His role as mediator between God and humanity. Praying in Jesus' name invites His power and presence into the situation, asking for prayers to be answered according to His will and for His glory.  Whether or not the specific phrase “in Jesus’ name” is specifically stated, all true Christian prayer seeks to embody the attitude of being in Jesus’ name.

38. Amen
The word "Amen" is a declaration of affirmation often found at the end of prayers, signifying agreement and truth. It is derived from Hebrew, meaning "so be it" or "truly," and has been adopted as the traditional closing word to prayers and hymns, underscoring the trust and faith placed in the words that precede it. "Amen" is more than a ritualistic conclusion; it is a powerful expression of belief and confidence in the promises of God, symbolizing the prayerful petitioner's hope that their words will be heard and acted upon by the Divine. Its use unites believers in a common acknowledgment of the presence and sovereignty of God, making it a profound connective thread in the fabric of spiritual practice.