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Showing posts with label Advent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Advent. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Continual Prayer

Introduction and Definition
I love the lyrics in the song “Let Us Pray” by Steven Curtis Chapman when it says, “And just because we say the word, "Amen", it doesn't mean this conversation needs to end.  Let us pray, let us pray, everywhere in every way.  Every moment of the day, it is the right time.  Let us pray without end and when we finish start again.  Like breathing out and breathing in, let us pray.

There are so many ways to pray and today I want to talk about continual prayer (AKA Unceasing Prayer).  If prayer, at its heart, is really communion with God, shouldn’t prayer be something we do every minute of every day?  Why do we say “amen” and go on with our life—as if prayer were something we paused to do apart from everything else.  Don’t we want to walk with God all the time, to be in constant communion with Him?  Is that even possible?  It is possible and it’s called continual prayer and Scripture commends it to us.

Ephesians 6:18 – Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Romans 12:12 – Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 - Never stop praying.

Now continual prayer doesn’t mean walking around all day with our heads bowed, hands folded, and eyes closed in prayer.  There are other ways to work towards a constant state of prayer throughout the day.  I want to share some exercises that can help you be in more constant prayerful communion with the Lord.

Breathe Prayer
One spiritual exercise is known as breath prayer.  A breath prayer is a short prayer you can pray in one breath.  An example of a breath prayer from Scripture is the prayer of the tax collector from Luke 18:13, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.”  Perhaps you remember the story…

The idea behind a breath prayer is to choose one breath prayer to focus on for an entire day.  Then, you say your breath prayer throughout the day as you are driving, working, cooking dinner, cleaning up, or whatever you are doing.  You don’t say the words of your prayer continuously; rather you say it whenever you think about it and try to reflect on it all day.  You make the prayer the focus of your thinking throughout the day.  In doing so, you stay in a prayerful attitude and open your heart to whatever the Lord might speak on the subject.  You can make up your own breath prayer or try one from Scripture, such as:
“Speak Lord, for your servant hears…” (1 Samuel 3:9 & 10, NKJV).

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1, KJV).

“Know that Jesus is Lord… Cease striving” (Based on Psalm 46:10, NASB).

“In Christ alone my soul finds rest…” (Based on Psalm 62:1).

"My help comes from the Lord…" (Psalm 121:2)

"Here I am." (Isaiah 6:8)

"Show your power." (Based on Psalm 80:2)

"Not my will, but yours." (based on Matthew 26:39)

"Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20)

Practicing the Presence of God
Another way we can move toward the continual prayer of constant communion with God is an exercise called practicing the presence of God.  Psalm 13:8 says, “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.”  We may know in our mind that God is everywhere, all the time, but our heart does not always feel God’s presence in every place, all the time.  It takes practice to help our heart feel what our mind already knows.  Christians throughout the ages have developed techniques to open the awareness of our heart to God’s presence with us all the time.

Few people jump straight into full awareness of God’s presence with us everywhere and all of the time.  We have to take baby steps to progress toward that goal.  You can think of it like learning to writing.  When you are a child—maybe five or six-years-old—you don’t jump from being illiterate straight to writing a long essays.  No.  First, you have to learn the alphabet—A, B, C, D…  Then you have to learn the sounds they make and how letters form together to make words.  And then, you have to learn how to hold a pencil and how to form certain pen-strokes that form letters and learn how to keep the words you write neat and all on the same line.  It takes years of practice to learn to write well.  In the beginning, you struggle because you have to think about every letter and every word you form.  Then, you learn to make coherent sentences.  Then, after a time, it starts to become more natural and you begin to write without having to think about it all that much.  It’s just natural.

The same is true when we practice the presence of God.  We take small steps that move us from the very beginning stages to more advanced stages where our awareness of God’s presence with us all the time is something we don’t have to think about; we just know it to be true and we feel Him and know Him all of the time.  Here are some steps that can help you grow as you practice the presence of God.

The first step feels a little artificial.  It is an exercise that takes practice and work.  You have to rehearse it again and again before it starts to be natural and you can move on to more advanced stages.  In the first step, we look for ordinary everyday reminders to call us to prayer.    Teachers could learn to say a quick prayer every time they hear the school bell ring.  Or maybe it could be a reminder to pray every time you see your favorite color.  Doctors, nurses, and surgeons might say a prayer every time they scrub up or wash their hands.  You could even set an alarm on your phone or your wrist watch to go off every hour to remind you to pray.  Your prayers need not be long.  They could be a simple breath prayer.

The second step in practicing the presence of God starts when our prayers begin to happen subconsciously.  After a while, our short, regular prayers start to become so habitual we don’t need the reminders anymore.  We don’t even think about it; we just automatically pray because our prayer habits have become so engrained into our daily life.  At this stage, you may start to see some practical changes in your attitudes and behavior.  You may be less agitated in traffic; you may worry less; you may treat people with more kindness.  You are beginning to feel that God is with you even in those moments you used to exclude Him from before.  Knowing He is with you changes how you act and empowers you to be more like Christ in every moment.

The third stage occurs as prayer moves into the heart.  Our prayer has become more of an attitude of the heart than of just words we say.  We may not even articulate a prayer, but our thoughts, feelings, and behavior now express the sentiments we formerly spoke in prayer.  We are walking in close communion with the Lord.  He is in us and part of us and our lives become a continual pray of God’s love.  We also begin to see others the way God sees them.  Richard Foster writes in his book Prayer, “We walk into a room and quickly know who is sad or lonely or dealing with a deep, inexpressible sorrow.  In such cases, we are able to slip over beside them and sit in silence, bringing comfort and understanding and healing, knowing that “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7).

Answers to Objections
Some may have concerns about continual prayer.  In Matthew 6:7, Jesus warned, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.  Some have argued the kinds of continual prayers I’ve mentioned are like the repetitive babbling of the Gentiles that Jesus condemned.  But I don’t think so.  What Jesus was dealing with was religious leaders who liked to make a public spectacle out of the prayers in order to impress people and pagans who thought prayer was some kind of magical incantation they could use to control God. 

The kind of continual prayers we want to practice are secret prayers.  We aren’t doing them as a way of showing off for others.  In fact, if you do them right, you could go through your entire day without anyone even knowing you were praying.  It is a practice between you and God alone.  Furthermore, you are not trying to manipulate God by repeating your prayers over and over as some magical incantation.  The point of your repetition is to affect your own behaviors and attitudes, not God’s.  There’s nothing wrong with repetition.  In Matthew 26: 36-44, Jesus repeated his prayers about his cup of suffering three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Lord, if it is possible, take this cup from me!”  Furthermore, he said we should, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).
Some people may be afraid of constant communion with God.  What if you are angry or having an argument with your wife or are angry at your kids?  While some might want Jesus to be very close to them in those moments, others might feel awkward thinking of God seeing them in those unflattering times.  It’s ok.  God is patient with us.  Richard Foster puts it this way in his book:

“Frankly, beyond the desperation prayers… (“O God, help!”), I have found that I cannot pray during these times.  So rather than try to fool myself by piously pretending constant communion, what I do in such situations is to ask God for a timeout.  He is gracious as always and understands our frailty.  In time we can come back and try again.  The question is not whether we fail again and again—that is a given; the question is whether over a period of time we are developing a practiced habit of divine fellowship.”

So, know that you’ve heard about continual prayer, how might you put it into practice in your life.  We need to pray faithfully.  We also need to pray deeply.  Prayer is the life blood of our relationship with God.  It is why we were put here on earth.  So how might you use the techniques of continual prayer to help you be in more constant fellowship with God through prayer?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Suffering Prayer

I highly recommend Richard Foster's book, Prayer, as a resource as you study prayer.  Foster's book has been a valuable resource to me as I've developed this series on prayer and in my own efforts to deepen my prayer life.

There is a shallow, imposter Christianity--one popular with many, many people--that says believing in Jesus will keep you safe from suffering (or at least, will help you suffer less than those who don’t believe).  And many of us, if we are honest, spend most of our time praying that God will protect us from or take away our suffering.  And yet, again and again, the Bible talks about suffering as inevitable and even an essential ingredient in a Christian’s spiritual development.  Jesus promised we would suffer because we follow him as Lord and Savior.  In fact, he said, “If you want to follow me, you must deny yourself everyday and take up your cross and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  The cross itself, is a torture device that was designed specifically to cause excruciating, long lasting pain.  And Christians are only faithful when we choose to pick one up everyday as we follow our Lord.  So, far from ending our suffering or even helping us to avoid it, the Christian faith seems to guarantee we will suffer if we choose to follow Christ--the suffering servant of God.  Now, to be sure, the suffering we endure is nothing compared to the joy of know the love of God through Jesus Christ or the glory of eternal life.  However, we will suffer in this life.

Suffering takes us out of the shallow waters of pop-Christianity into the deep waters of real intimacy with God.  To know true suffering, is to know something of what Christ knew as he hung on the cross; it gives us empathy with the Son of God who suffered for our sins. We understand in our very own aching bones:  this is the price of our rebellion. We know the pain only in part, but Christ bore the full hell of sin--the weight of every person's sin, the whole world's, completely.  So today, we will consider suffering as Scripture often does:  as a deep form of prayer, suffering prayer.

2 Corinthians 4:6-10
6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

God’s Word is Unchanging
I am so thankful for the Bible! Were it not for the unchanging Word of God, we would be lost in the shifting sands of the world's pop-philosophies.  The world today says, “Suffering is bad.”  That’s just an unchallenged idea in America these days.  Perhaps our “avoid suffering at all cost” mentality is the root cause of many of our problems:  
  • kids that have no self-discipline because their parents sheltered them from all suffering,
  • a sense of entitlement--like everything should just be given to us
  • and obesity is an epidemic in our society because exercise is a form of self-imposed suffering that few want to endure.  Better to just indulge ourselves as much as possible.

Most people take the easy road, one that bypasses short term suffering but leads to greater suffering down the road.  We do not have the will to be healthy because it requires suffering and the world has told us the lie that suffering is bad and must be avoided at all costs.  But the Word of God tells a deeper Truth:  suffering can be a virtue--when endured rightly by those who place all their faith in Jesus Christ.  Who do you believe?  The world or the Word of God?

Suffering Prayer
Prayer is so much more than we might have thought.  Most of us are familiar with prayer as:  something a preacher does in worship on Sundays, or a blessing before a meal, or asking God to help us or our loved one’s with a problem.  However, the colorful spectrum of prayer is much wider just than these few hues. Prayer comes in many forms.  One important type of prayer is called “suffering prayer”.  Suffering prayer is prayer that asks God to use our difficulties in a redeeming way.  

We all face trials in life.  Some are only minor irritations--a traffic jam or aching muscles or a cashier at the grocery store who was not very polite.  Other suffering comes from deep tragedies—our home burns down or our our parents neglect us or we lose someone we love.  Whatever the trials may be, you can turn them into a suffering prayer.  When you suffer, pray that God would use your troubles for redemptive purposes.  You can pray as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39).  Jesus didn’t want to suffer, but he was willing to accomplish God’s greater good--the salvation of the world.  You too can ask God to turn your suffering into a blessing--for you and for others.  You could pray something like this:  “Lord, my feet are hurting today.  May their aching remind me of those in the world who don’t have good shoes to wear.  Take my suffering and turn it into a blessing for someone who’s in need.”  Or as you encounter a rude sales clerk this busy Christmas season, pray to yourself, “Jesus, I don’t know why they’re being so rude, but people were rude to you too.  Help me to be patient and a humble servant like you.  And please show your love to this clerk, for I don’t know what they are enduring.”

Another way to use suffering prayer is to voluntarily suffer on behalf of others in order to help set them free.  There is a way to listen as others share their troubles and prayerfully feel the pain with them.  I have at times been moved to tears by hearing someone’s pain.  I felt something of of what they felt.  Others have sometime done this for me as too.  When this happens, the load becomes lighter; two people can carry a sorrow better than one.  It is a fulfillment of Galatians 6:2, “Share one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  Now, it is also important to say you must let go of that burden after a short time.  No one should carry other people’s burdens for too long.  It could become too much and crush you.  As a pastor, I am always hearing of other people’s troubles.  Someone is always fighting with demons or falling ill or going to the hospital or grieving a loved one who dies.  I take each one seriously, but I cannot carry all of their pain, all the time.  So I try to carry it for a little while and then give it to Jesus, who is the only one who can carry all of it, all the time.

Fasting can be a very meaningful spiritual exercise that, unfortunately, is practiced too little in the Church in America.  Fasting is voluntarily denying yourself food for a time in order to seek spiritual nourishment.  Fasting could also be giving up other things besides food--like watching TV or using social media.  Fasting is a form of self-inflicted suffering.  Done rightly, fasting is not a way to go on a diet or lose weight; it is a deep form of suffering prayer.  Fasting has been a valuable tool for spiritual growth in the Christian Church for 2,000 years.  Many people in the Bible fasted in order to draw closer to God.  Jesus, himself, practiced fasting.  He fasted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness just before he began his earthly ministry.  Jesus also taught that some demons can only be overcome through prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29 KJV).

It’s very common to tell someone struggling with a problem you will pray for them.  “I’m having surgery this Friday.”  “Oh!  I’ll pray for you.”  It encourages them and our prayers are a blessing.  But consider this, how would they feel if you offered to fast for them?  Perhaps they say, “I have a interview for a new job tomorrow and I’m worried about it.”  And you say, “Friend, I’m gonna pray for you and I’m going to fast for you too.”  Maybe you could skip breakfast or lunch as a fast on their behalf.  Ask God to use your suffering as a prayer for them.

Suffering prayer keeps us humble and reminds us that we are very FRA-JI-LEE (fragile).  It is wonderful news that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is adopted into the royal family of God.  We are kings and queens--a royal priesthood in God’s Kingdom.  The divine light of Christ shines in our hearts, but 2 Corinthians 4:6 says we carry that divine light in fragile clay jars.  We are tremendously blessed, but don’t be too proud of yourself because we are easily broken.  Pride not only leads us away from God, it numbs us to the glorious presence of God all around us. 

Suffering Prayer draws us away from our prideful delusions of grandeur back into the reality of God’s glory and love.  Through suffering, 2 Corinthians 4:10 says, “...our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” How might you use suffering prayer to go deeper in your prayer life?  Perhaps Christ is calling you to a more faithful and deeper  prayer life through the use of suffering prayer.

A Prayer on Suffering by Bernadette Soubirous
Bernadette Soubirous [Sue – B – Roo] was a sickly child born in 1844 to a impoverished family in France.  Her family was so poor they lived in the one-room basement of a friend that was formerly used as a jail cell.  Bernadette contracted cholera as a toddler and suffered from severe asthma for the rest of her life.  Her poor health stunted her growth.  She only grew to 4’7” tall.  Bernadette joined the Sisters of Charity working as an assistant in the infirmary until she died at the age of 35.  Her life-long suffering kept her in constant communion with God.  She is remembered and honored for her deep humility and spirit of sacrifice.  I would like to conclude with her Prayer on Suffering (adapted):

Heavenly Father, we suffer. All our cries of anguish rise to You, our Comforter. In Your adorable heart, we grieve. To Your heart, we confide our sighs, our anguish, our grief to Your grief.  Jesus, sanctify our sufferings by this holy union. Grant that by increasing our love for You, our grief may become lighter and easier to bear.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Liturgical Prayer

As we head toward Christmas, I challenge you to pray more often and more deeply.  Prayer is essential in the Christian faith.  It’s not just something Christians do; prayer is our relationship with God.  Prayer is so much more than we’ve settle for.  There are so many ways to pray.  And our prayer life needs to be faithful and deep.  Faithful, meaning we pray often and regularly; and deep, meaning our prayers go beyond the shallow, surface prayers of immature faith.

Last Wednesday, I shared about examining prayer—where we examine our life for ways God reveals His presence with us and also invite Him to examine our hearts.  Sunday, I taught about the Lord’s Prayer (aka the Daddy prayer)—a simple model of prayer where we have a conversation with our Daddy in Heaven about whatever we want to talk about.  Today, I want to explore liturgical prayer.  Psalm 136 is a beautiful example of liturgical prayer from the Old Testament.  Here's a sample that would normally be lead by a worship leader with a congregation responding with the words in italics:

Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who made the heavens so skillfully.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights—
His faithful love endures forever.
the sun to rule the day,
His faithful love endures forever.
and the moon and stars to rule the night.
His faithful love endures forever.
He remembered us in our weakness.
His faithful love endures forever.
He saved us from our enemies.
His faithful love endures forever.
He gives food to every living thing.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His faithful love endures forever.

Liturgical Prayer
Liturgy is a scripted formula for worship or prayer.  For instance, every Sunday at our church, we follow the same general pattern for worship.  We make announcements, then have a prelude as the Acolytes light the altar candles, there is a call to worship, and then an opening prayer, etc.  The songs and prayers and messages change from week to week, but we usually follow the same general pattern.  The “pattern” (or order of worship) is the liturgy.  

We might also call a responsive reading a liturgy.  For example, we might recite the Apostles Creed that is printed in the bulletin or on the screens (or from memory); or we might use a responsive reading as we light the Advent candles or a prayer of confession from the back of the hymnal at the end of the service.

Ceremonies we act out—like lighting the Advent candles—are also liturgy.  This includes many ceremonies like:
  • Holy Communion – where we break the bread and raise the cup
  • The offering – passing the plates and lifting them up at the altar
  • Baptism – sprinkling or pouring water over a person’s head
  • The Acolytes lighting the candles on the altar
  • Parishioners kneeling at the altar for prayer
All of these physical acts are a form of liturgical prayer.  Sometimes, we say formulated words (written prayers) as we perform the acts; we say, “This is the body and blood of Christ” as we share Holy Communion.  Other times, the rituals stand alone as acts of prayer by themselves as when the acolytes symbolically bring the light of Christ to the altar candles at the beginning of the service.

So let me explore two forms of liturgical prayer you could use in your private prayer times:  written prayers and ceremonial prayers

Written Prayers
Some people really struggle to know what to say in prayer.  I had one person tell me they have the prayer in their head, but really have trouble getting the words from their head to their lips.  Others who pray quite frequently often find that their prayers get repetitive; they always pray about the same things.  Fortunately, there are endless collections of prayers that people have written down through the ages.  There are prayers that cover the gamut of subjects we can pray about.  Examples of Written Prayers:
President Woodrow Wilson

A Prayer for All Nations by President Woodrow Wilson
Almighty God, supreme Governor of all people, hear our prayer for all nations, and so overrule the imperfect counsel of people, and set straight the things they cannot govern, that we may walk in the paths of obedience to you, and to thoughts that purge and make us wise; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Prayer of Saint Fancis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

The United Methodist Hymnal has prayers throughout its pages.  Books that collect and index prayers according to topics are also available.  And with the tremendous resources available on the internet, you can find prayers for any subject or occasion.  Struggling with depression?  Look up a prayer about depression.  Want to pray for someone on their birthday?  Do a Google search for birthday prayers.  Need a prayer as you get ready for Christmas?  Look up Christmas prayers and find one like this one by Melanie Chitwood: 
Dear Lord, don't let us miss You this Christmas season. Help us to simplify our activities and traditions so we can focus our celebration on Your birth. Thank You for being the Prince of Peace, and I ask You for that supernatural peace to reign in our hearts. Thank You for the simple but life-changing message of Your love for us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

A drawback to written prayers is they might lack some of the spontaneity of coming up with your own prayer on the spot, but the drawback comes with a great benefit—spiritual depth.  Written prayers broaden what you pray about.  Left to ourselves, we might not ever think to pray about anything beyond the same people, concerns, and subjects we always think about.  Reading through collections of traditional and contemporary prayers exposes us to a multitude of ideas, yearnings, and insights from Christians from all over the world and throughout the ages.  And praying words someone else wrote down doesn’t have to be impersonal.  Often, you may find that reading someone else’s prayer inspires you to talk to God about the subject in your own words.  Now you have gotten to the heart of prayer.

Ceremonial Prayers
Ceremonial prayer is a prayer acted out in a ritual.  The variety of ceremonies is limitless.  And don’t be put off by the word “ceremony”, which might seem too “official” for what you do in your private prayer time.  A ceremonial prayer is just a physical routine that you do as a form of prayer.

If prayer is intimate communion with God, then it makes sense that our intimate times with God would include more than just talking.  Doesn't your time with close family and friends include more than conversation?  Let me put it to you this way.  Kelly and I have a habit of getting up and sharing a cup of coffee together on the couch at 5 AM on those mornings when she goes to work.  We get out of bed, let the dog out, make a cup of coffee, and sit on the couch.  We usually don’t talk much.  We’re both quiet people and it’s early in the morning.  Although few words are spoken, we are together and there’s an intimacy in our time which we intentionally spend together.  Drinking coffee is the ceremony, but just being together is the beautiful result.  We have other non-verbal “rituals” too.  We sometimes like to hold hands while driving in the car.  I open the door for her when we enter a building together. 

Now take that concept and transfer it over to your relationship with God.  What routines might you do that become a form of prayer while you spend time with God?  Some people like to read a chapter of the Bible or an Upper Room devotional every morning.  Others like to open their palms to heaven while they sing in church on Sunday.  Some like to kneel down at the side of their bed before they go to sleep.  

We don’t always have to use words when we commune with God in prayer.  Deuteronomy 6:9 instructs Jews to write the Lord’s commands on the doorposts of their house.  Many Jews have a Mezuzah on their doorpost that contains a written prayer statement called the Shema that says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”  Many kiss the Mezuzah when they go in or out of their home.  What prayerful rituals do you or could you incorporate into your life?  Could you hand copy or type a few verses of Scripture into a journal every day?  Could you turn your morning commute into a time to sing praises to God?  Some families find it meaningful to read the Bible together.  Some people have their own Advent candle ceremony—lighting one candle in their home for everyday leading up to Christmas.

Everyone has daily rituals in their life.  How might you take something you already do—a daily walk, a morning cup of coffee, taking a shower, doing the dishes—and turn them into a ceremonial prayer.  How do you make a daily ritual a ceremonial prayer?  It’s not hard.  It only takes you making it an intentional act of prayer.  Here’s an example of how it could look.

Loading the Dishwasher with Jesus
  1. As you see all the dirty dishes needing to be cleaned, don’t be overwhelmed. Instead, be glad you have a way to clean them.
  2. As you unload the clean dishes from the dishwasher, be thankful for all the ways Jesus has cleansed and made you new.
  3. As you load dirty dishes into the dishwasher, envision Jesus graciously receiving all your sins.
  4. When the dishwasher is full, be satisfied that Jesus has the capacity to carry all your sins away.
  5. As you place the dish detergent in the washer, know the blood of Christ can wash away the stain of any sin.  As you start the dishwasher and hear it running, remember Jesus is cleansing your life--even now.  It may take some time to see the results, but you will.  Be patient.
Holy Communion
Prayer is communion with God.  Perhaps the greatest of all liturgical prayer is the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Through the use of bread and grape juice, we remember the love of God that was so strong it left the glory of Heaven to come down to our broken world to save us from our sins by dying on a cross.  Maybe you will find an opportunity to enjoy The Lord's Supper this season.  We will share it at my church on Christmas Eve at 5:00 PM.  

How could you deepen your prayer life through liturgical prayer?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Real Love

            Advent is the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas when Christians prepare to celebrate Christ's birth, but it is also a time we focus on preparing for Jesus' second coming.  The first time, Jesus came as a harmless little baby.  But the second time, Jesus will come as a conquering King ready to separate the good from the evil. 
            Thankfully, God loves us so much and wants us to be ready.  That’s why He sent Jesus to first time—to get us ready.  Jesus shows us how we need to live and he already atoned for our sins.  Aren't you glad Jesus came the first time so we can be ready when he comes the second time?
John 3:1616 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Real Love
            There are many popular songs written about love and love is a common theme in books, television, and movies.  However, real love, the kind of love Jesus shows and wants us to have, is so much deeper than the love the world promotes.  Mother Teresa said, "Love, to be real, must cost.  It must hurt.  It must empty us of self."
            I see a lot of expressions of real love in our congregation.   Real love is 12 people from our church joining with a team from Grace Presbyterian to feed over 100 needy people at the City of Refuge last Monday night.  Real love is Kevin Roberts there coloring a picture with a little girl and Tanya Brooker tutoring a child on their math homework before the food was served.  Real love is when our church secretary, Angela, can’t sleep at night because she’s tossing and turning in the bed at 3 AM thinking about what we can do with poinsettias to show the love of Jesus—and she comes up with the Poinsettia Challenge. 
            Real love is Susan Cooksey—a retired teacher—going over to Pleasant Grove Elementary School each week to help out and see how our church can be a blessing to the school.  Most people retire and throw their hands up in praise, "I'm done!  I don't have to work any more!  I've done my time.  Now I can sit at home and collect a retirement check."  In stead, Susan continues to go to the school and work as a volunteer to help teachers and students, because that's what real love does.
            Real love is a Jason and Andrea Denson going through over 2 years of preparation and training and paperwork and praying and hoping and crying and hoping and crying and hoping some more before finally flying over to China to meet their new daughter.  Real love is their son, Jace—who’s been the baby of the family getting all the attention for almost a decade—welcoming his new sister into the family with open arms.  He willingly shares his family with his new sister.
            Real love is James and Mary Greenway taking clothes over to the residents who lost everything in an apartment fire in Dalton this weekend and praying with them to bring peace in the midst of a tragedy.  Real love is Amy Harris spurring our church to sponsor 20 families who have a loved one in prison so they will have Christmas presents and leading the youth to host a Angel Tree Party for the families yesterday.  Real love is someone from our church going to visit a friend in prison because they’re struggling with addiction and mental illness and they did a terrible thing, but Jesus still loves them so we do too. 
            Real love is a parent who sacrifices the time, the money, their life, gaining gray hairs through nights of worry and praying and shedding tears of joy and sometimes disappointment.  Real love is a spouse who cares for their husband or wife as they slowly fade into dementia.  Real love never giving up even when it hurts so bad you just want to die.
1 John 4:19 – We love each other because he [God] loved us first.
            Even though humanity had turned their backs on God, God still loved us and sent Jesus.  We didn't deserve any help, any mercy, any love, but God showed loved us and showed mercy and helped us anyway.  And oh how great is the extent of God's wonderful love!  He sent his one and only son.  He could have and should have come as king treated to a palace and glory with everyone serving him.  But Jesus didn't come to be served.  He came to serve others.  He showed what real love is and he said:

John 15:13 – There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
            Jesus showed us what real love is.  Every day, Jesus laid down his life by the way he served and put others before himself.  And ultimately in the end, Jesus literally laid down his life when he died on the cross for our sins.  1 John 4:10, "This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins." 

Get Ready and Follow Jesus
            Jesus loves us with real love and he want us to love him so we will be ready.  Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love me, obey my commandments." And what were his commands?  Let me distill it down to 4 basic truths.

·       Command #1 – Repent.  The first sermon Jesus preached was "Repent for the Kingdom of God is near."  In other words, your day of reckoning and judgment could happen at any moment.  God is about to separate the good from the bad and reward each accordingly.  So you better turn away from your wrongdoing and turn to God.
·       Command # 2 – Trust Jesus.  You have to turn away from your evil ways and trying to do what you want and trust and follow Jesus' way.  Do you trust Jesus enough to give up what you want and work for what he wants?  That is the only way to be ready to meet him face to face when he comes again.  That is the only way to find eternal life.
·       Command # 3 – Love.  Jesus said to love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  John 15:12, Jesus said, "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you."  What does that mean?  It means you lay down your life.  It means life stops being about you.  It’s about serving others and loving them the way Jesus did.
·       Command #4 – Go.  In  Matthew 28:19, 20, Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of all nations…  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you…"  That’s what I what I try to do everyday by the way I live and even as I write this blog.  I want you to become a disciple of Jesus, because I love you and I want you have eternal life in the Kingdom of God with me. 
Are you ready to meet Jesus when he comes again? I hope with all my heart you will obey these commands so you will be ready, because I want to meet you one day in eternity.  Let's plan to get together then and go for a walk down the golden streets beside the crystal sea.  If you've never become a real Christian--one who has repented, believed in Jesus, received his forgiveness, and committed to follow Him--why don't you ask God to receive you into His Kingdom today.  You can use the following as a guide as you pray to God.

A Prayer to Become a Christian
"Father, I'm so sorry for trying to do things my way.  I repent.  I surrender my life to You.  Forgive me for what I've done and help me to follow Jesus from this day forward.  Help me to love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And help me to love everyone I meet the way You love them.  Show me how I can tell people what Jesus is doing for me.  Thank You for saving me!  Now help me live for You for the rest of my life.  Amen."

If you prayed to become a Christian today, I would like to here from you.  Please email me at so I can pray for you.