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

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Prayer of Adoration

Throughout the season of Advent, we’ve been studying prayer.  Prayer is so much more than we might have thought.  We can pray and ask for God’s help--help with our lives, help for those we love.  That is a type of prayer--intercessory prayer or petitionary prayer.  But there is more to prayer than just that.  Prayer can be meditating on Scripture. It can be reflecting and examining your day.  Prayer can be celebrating Holy Communion or worship or other responsive readings or traditional prayers.  Prayer can be surrendering to God and allowing Him to change us.  At its heart, prayer is spending time with God as a child spends time with a loving parent.  And when we do, the Father shares His love with us and teaches us and molds us into His perfect image.

On this Christmas Eve, as we celebrate the precious baby that was born in a manger, I want to tell you a little about another kind of prayer.  It’s called The Prayer of Adoration and it is a fitting lesson as we pause to remember and adore the Christ-child born to save the world from sin.

Slides – Luke 2:1-20
1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Adoration a Baby is Natural
Can you imagine those shepherds that night standing before the baby Jesus, adoring him.  And later the wise men also came from the East to bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They gave their gifts and adored the baby who was born to be king of the Jews and Savior of the whole world.  We don’t know how many others might have laid their adoring eyes on the baby--whispering sweet “goo goos” to him or lovingly cradling him in their arms.  It seems everyone wants to come see a newborn baby.  We can probably imagine what it was like for them to adore baby Jesus.  If we have ever seen a newborn child or held a tiny little infant, light as a feather, if you’ve ever seen those tiny little hands grasping your finger while looking up at you with bleary eyes (seeing everythig for the very first time), then you know something of the wonder of those who gathered around the manger to adore the baby, Emmanuel, God with us.  

I saw a new mother post a picture of her baby on Instagram—her very first child.  Her caption read, “I never knew I could love someone so much.  How is this possible?”

Isn’t it strange that we would be so captivated by a baby?  A baby doesn’t do anything except be “cure”; however, people still adore babies.   To behold a baby brings us joy and wonder and hope.  Babies have the power to fill our hearts with love and it’s not a selfish kind of love; it’s the kind of self-sacrificing love that would make a complete stranger risk their life to save a baby.  

God designed us to adore little babies, to love and protect them.  It is an innate part of our character to love little babies this way.  No one has to teach us.  And so it was that God came into our broken world as a tiny little baby.  And the shepherds came--men who I’m sure were rough and tough from surviving the cold winter nights while protecting their flocks from wild animals and ruthless thieves.  They came and were overcome with wonder and awe at the sight of a little baby in a manger.  They adored him.

Stumbling Blocks to Adoration
We, too, are invited to come and adore Jesus.  Adoration is an act of prayer and it’s actually what we were designed to do.  God created us to love Him and be loved by Him.  All creation praises Him and we are the creations crowning glory.

To adore is as natural to the human spirit as breathing, but we don’t always adore God as we should.  There are several reason we get distracted and don’t adore Him as we should.

We are in too much of a rush.  We are always so busy doing doing “important things” we don’t slow down enough to notice all the amazing signs of God’s presence all around us.  I wonder how many people in busy Bethlehem failed to notice the young couple Mary and Joseph and their newborn baby.  And even of those who stopped in to take a quick look, how many took the time to really soak in the wonder of it all and to turn their hearts to adore the glory of God who is the giver of life.  I also wonder how often we fail to slow down enough to notice the glory of God all around and lift up a prayer of adoration to God.

We often fail to adore God, because we are stuck worshipping idols.  When I say we worship idols, I don’t mean some statue we bow down to.  An idol is anything that takes the place of the one true God, anything you turn to for the fulfillment that only God can give you.  We can make an idol out of money, power, our career, our church, even our spouse or our kids.  Many of the things we adore are good things, but they are bad for us when we seek fulfillment from them that we can only get from God.  Idolatry is dangerous for us and for the things we worship.

So we have to slow down and we have to focus our adoration on the One who truly deserves it.  He is the One who made us.  He is the source and sustainer of our life.  He is the God who loves us and daily blesses us with signs and wonders designed to turn our adoring hearts upward toward Him.  But we have to slow down and turn our eyes away from the blinking distractions of our noisy world in order to take notice of the subtle beauty and wonder of the Lord of all creation.  He is the One who came down from Heaven and was born in a tiny manger for us to adore.  He is the One who walked among the sick and lonely and poor, who spoke in parable that only those with ears could hear.  He is the One who died on a cross to save the world.  He is the one who bore a cross, the symbol of a lost cause, and turned it into a victory worthy to love and adore.

Steps Along the Path of the Prayer of Adoration
We out to continually give thanks and praise to God.  Thanks is adoring God for what God has done for us.  Praise is even more wonderful; it is adoring God simply for who He is without any regard for what He’s done for us.  Praise is selfless adoration of the Lord.  We can give thanks.  We can praise Him.  We can magnify Him.  To magnify is to try to exaggerate how wonderful God is.  We sometimes brag and exaggerate how great we are, but I bet you can never over-exaggerate how wonderful God is.  Give it a try.  I bet you can’t over-exaggerate how wonderful God is!

In his book Prayer, Richard Foster recommends we start with simple things in adoring God.  Rather jump right to the grand and cosmic scale of how wonderful God is, look at a baby.  How wonderful is the God who would create human life and cause it to begin in a tiny little child--so fragile and yet fully formed and amazing.  Don’t analyze and study, just be amazed at the miracle of life and adore the One who created it.  As we regularly adore God as revealed in the little things, we train ourselves to see and adore God everywhere.  As we become more filled with wonder about God, we can begin to thank and praise and magnify Him.

Adore Him
This Christmas, I pray you will slow down and refocus.  See the baby Jesus in the manger, born to save the world.  Adore him.  For He is God.  It is what you were born to do.

The Prayer of Rest

Advent is the season where we get ready for Christmas.  It’s also the season we remember that Jesus is coming again and so we work to be ready for that Second Coming.  We prepare our soul through prayer and fasting and worship and study and service.  Advent is nearly at an end.  Christmas is in two days.  Are you ready?  It’s been a long, busy season.  We’ve worked hard.  We’ve studied many types of prayer.  I’m looking forward to the Christmas break when we can rest a bit.  We need rest.  I need rest.

Part of prayer is learning to truly rest in God, even in the midst of chaos.  So today, let me share about what is known as the prayer of rest.

Matthew 11:28-30
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Jesus Invites us to Rest in Him
Who couldn’t use a little more rest?  As children, we often fought our parents when they tried to make us take a nap.  (When I became a parent, I learned how blessed it could be to make your child take a nap--because it gives you a moment to rest too!!!)  As adults, there always seems to be too much to do and never enough time to rest.  Some people would kill for a little extra nap time!  I have Good News!  God wants you to rest!

When God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, He established a holy rhythm for life.  There were six days to do the ordinary work of life and then the seventh day was a special day to rest.  It is was a wonderful gift God gave to humanity--a special day just for rest, to leave off from the stress and strain of regular work and just enjoy sweet communion with God who is the source of life.

But people, who are overwhelmed with sin, always strive to gain more, more, more.  God wants to give us rest, but if we rest, we might miss out on some of the “more” that we desperately want.  We say we want rest, but when we have the choice between entering into the Lord’s rest or chasing after more (more money, more fun, more stuff, more more more), we usually choose “more” over rest.  If we are honest and if we really think on the matter, we realize our lack of rest is most often the result of our own choices and priorities in life.

In the midst of this, Jesus invites us to rest.  “Come to me,” he says, “And I will give you rest.”  In other words, be my disciple (follow me, pattern your life after my ways instead of your own or the world’s example), and I will give you rest.  Again, the choice is before us.  We can choose His way that leads to rest, but we most often choose a different path that keeps us from rest. 

Sabbath, rest, means to rest in God.  It is trusting in Him to take care of things without giving in to the nagging impulse inside that says we’ve got to make something happen.  Sabbath rest is not so much “being lazy and doing nothing or sleeping all day”; it is letting go and trusting God to handle it (or else doing what He tells us to do according to His plan).

3 Ways to Practice the Prayer of Rest
The first practice is solitude, something I spoke about last week.  Solitude is going off to be by yourself.  Solitude can help you worry less about what others think, but it can also help you stop trying to be in control everything.  When you voluntarily step away from all your normal work and interactions with people, you have to let go.  We may think the world cannot survive without us; everything is going to fall apart if we’re not there to keep the train on the tracks.  Is that really so?  Are you so important the world cannot survive without you?  Who do you think you are?  (Pause…)

Last January, me and my whole family came down with the flu.  I was not able to go preach or lead worship at the church I pastor.  Thankfully, my worship leader and choir leader volunteered to lead the service without me.  They told me to stay home and rest and recuperate.  They designed a prayer service with special music and different people from our congregation leading prayer.  They designed and lead it completely without me.  People loved it and told me how meaningful it was for them.  It was so well-received, we decided to do ti again this year (not get the flu, but the service!).  Furthermore, that same day, I was scheduled to lead a planning meeting where we planned all the activities for the 2018 year.  I was supposed to lead the meeting.  Thankfully, two ladies from my church stepped up and led the meeting.  With the help of other leaders in the church, they planned all the activities for the calendar year.  And it all turned out great!  We had a great 2018 year full of wonderful programs.  And it all got planned without me (maybe because I wasn't there).

Step away from things.  Go off by yourself for a time--a few hours, a few days.  Rest in the Lord.  Meditate on this eternal truth:  One day you will not be here anymore.  Do you think the world will not go on without you?  Of course it will.  And it will go on with you for a little while if you leave it alone and take a rest.  In fact, things may work themself out just fine without you (with God’s help instead of yours).  It may be that your absence is what is really needed in order for God to work it out.

Silence is another way to practice the prayer of rest.  What I mean by “silence” is not so much refusing to speak or make noise.  What I mean is to silence your striving and grasping and manipulative control of people and situations.  You have to silence the inner turmoil within your mind that worries frantically, “I have to do something!”  No.  All you need to do right now is rest.  Be still and know that God is in control.  He doesn’t need any help from you.  Quiet your mind and let God rebalance you. If and when He want you to get involved, He will show you.  Then you will be a peace in your soul and better able to resume your work according to His priorities.  But here’s the thing, you can’t hear God’s still small voice guiding you until you silence all the other worrisome voices loudly urging you to “Go! Go! Go!”

A third way to practice the prayer of rest is reflection.  Through reflection, you take time to stop your work, rest, and intentionally reflect on your life.  You consider:  Who am I?  What is my purpose according to God plan?  You make time to reflect on God’s glory, what He has done for you, and His incredible power and ability to hold the whole world together.  You empty your mind of all the things you have to do and instead consider the wonder of God and rest in His love for you and the reasons He gave you life.

Caution!  (Don’t Be A Pharisee)
The Pharisees in Jesus' day were militant about the Sabbath.  They believed you could not break it because God said so.  Jesus came along and drove them crazy, because he kept doing things like healing people or picking corn on the Sabbath and they said it was against the law.  Jesus said something different.  He said the Sabbath was made to serve man not man to serve the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is God's gift to us, not something we do for God's sake.

Sabbath is different for every person.  Exodus 20:8-9 says, “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.”  I added the italics to the word ordinary because I want to point out that everyone works in different ways and we need rest from our ordinary work.  Most people work all week long and then rest on the weekend.  I'm a pastor.  My most important work day is on Sunday, a day everyone else considers a Sabbath.  And I also work by serving God through religious activity.  That is my ordinary work.  So when I rest, I like to do something different--maybe build some furniture or work on a car.  That is restful for me, even though it may be very physical.  Resting for me often means not doing "church" stuff.  For you it will probably be different.  You need to take a break from your ordinary work routine and do something dedicated to resting in God.

Maybe, you want to take a vacation.  Great!  But be sure it's a resting vacation.  Sometimes we work so hard trying to pack more, fun, more memories, more, more, more into our vacations, they are anything but restful.  Just slow down, take it easy, and rest.

Jesus invites you to rest.  He says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Notice that Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you.”  A yoke is a tool to help oxen do work by pulling a loaded cart.  So following Christ still means you will work.  The difference is, the work will fit you so well it won’t seem much like work at all.  On behalf of Christ, I invite you to come to him and rest.  Lay your burdens aside and take his yoke upon you.  Enter into the prayer of rest.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Praying the Scripture (AKA Meditating Prayer)

Joshua 1:8
Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.

Psalm 145:5
I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles.

We have seen there are so many different ways to pray.  We have discussed Examining Prayer, The Lord’s Simple Prayer, Liturgical Prayer, Suffering Prayer, Continual Prayer, and Formation Prayer. [Click here for a list of 21 different types of prayer based on Richard Foster’s book Prayer]

One never need become bored with prayer or get stuck in a rut with their prayers and only pray the same things over and over again.  Today, I want to talk about Praying the Scripture (AKA Meditative Prayer).  By Praying the Scripture, Richard Foster writes in his book, Prayer, “the Bible ceases to be a quotation dictionary and becomes instead ‘wonderful words of life’ that lead us to the Word of life. It differs from the study of Scripture. Whereas the study of Scripture centers on [interpreting Scripture], the meditation upon Scripture centers on internalizing and personalizing the passage. The written word becomes a living word addressed to us.”

Praying Scripture Directly
One way of Praying the Scripture is simply to use the words of Scripture themselves as prayer.  There are many, many prayers recorded in the Bible.  You can use these as your own prayers.  We already do this when we pray the Lord’s prayer, which is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.  But there are many other Scriptures we can pray.  Much of the Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers that can easily serve as our prayers.  We could pray Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want…”  We could use Psalm 145, “I will exalt you, my God and King, and praise your name forever and ever…”  When we are in despair, we can use Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?  Why are you so far away when I groan for help?”  Or you could repent and ask for forgiveness with Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins...”

There are prayers in many other parts of the Bible too.  And you can turn a passage into a prayer.  In Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus “...said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”  You could pray what Jesus asked his disciples to pray:  “Lord, there is so much work to be done, so many souls to harvest for Your Kingdom.  Please send more people to help with all this work!”

Acts 4 records the prayers of the early Christian Church as they faced severe persecution from the Roman Empire.  They prayed “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them…  And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:31 says, “After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.”  If the prayer was so effective for them, why not try praying it for our Church today?

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”  If the Word of God in the Bible is so incredibly powerful, think how effective it could be to use those words themselves as your prayers.

Meditating on Scripture
But praying the actual words of Scripture is not the only way to Pray the Scriptures.  Another way to pray the Scripture is to meditate on it.  Meditation has been integral to God’s people from the very beginning.  Genesis 24:63 tells us Abraham’s son, Isaac, went out into a field to walk around and meditate.  Many of the Psalms were written as David meditated about God and His creation while he watched sheep at night.  The Psalms themselves mention meditation 14 times.  Devout Christians down through the ages have always practiced meditation.  Meditation is a firmly established Christian spiritual practice.  It wasn't until the last century that Christians got lazy about meditation so that it is more associated with the foreign religions of Buddhists and Hindus (or something reserved for the Karate Kid or Jedi Knights in Star Wars).  What would it look like if you and I recaptured the powerful practice of Christian meditation?

Christian meditation is fundamentally different from meditation in the Eastern religions.  In those religions, a person tries to empty their mind and become completely absorbed into impersonal, cosmic consciousness.  That is very different from what Christians believe. We believe God is a Person just as we are.  We believe He is an individual with emotions and a personality.  We believe God also made us as individuals in His image.  So, we believe we can talk with God just as one person talks to another.  Through Christian meditation we don’t seek to empty our minds.   Instead, we try to let God fill our minds with His feelings, His ideas, and His insights as we focus our minds on Scripture and welcome Him to transform our wills.

How Do You Meditate on Scripture?
Studying Scripture is important and we should do it, but meditating on Scripture is something different that we should do too.  When Christians meditate, we don’t analyzing the Scripture in order to merely get more information about it.  We believe the Bible is the living word of God. Therefore, we try to commune with God through the Scripture.

  1. Start by choosing a short passage on which to meditate.  Choose just one passage.  Don’t try rush through many pages of Scripture.  Just pick one episode and meditate only on it.  You might pick only one verse or even just one word to meditate upon.  Spend your entire time meditating on that one passage.  Some have suggested spending a whole week on the same passage, coming back to it again and again.  Sometimes you need time to move beyond just information gathering to where you are really entering into the text.  Each time you return to the passage over a course of days, you may may go deeper and deeper.
  2. Use your imagination.  As you meditate on the passage, use your imagination to consider what it’s like to be in the story.  What do you see, feel, taste, smell?  What emotions does the text bring out in you?  Why?  (God gave us an imagination and He wants us to use it.  So ask God to sanctify your imagination and use it for the work of His Kingdom.  Do not try to impart your own ideas into the meditation, be totally and completely dependant upon God to give you His thoughts and His Truth.)
  3. Try to relate to the story not just as something that happened a long, long time ago.  It is something that still unfolds today.  You are as much a part of God’s story as were the twelve Disciples who walked alongside Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  They were real people--His friends and disciples.  So are you.  Through Christian meditation, you open yourself up to the experience and start to feel the reality of Christ’s tangible presence with you, right now.  Through your intimate, prayerful fellowship with Him, He begins to change your will.  He confronts you, comforts you, challenges you, and inspires you.
  4. Let God change you.
Closing Meditation on Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac
I want to close with a meditation on Genesis 22:1-8, part of the story where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  As I read the passage, close your eyes and try to imagine you are Abraham.  What do you see, smell, hear, and how do you feel as you talk with God and your son and the other characters in the story?  What is it like to chop wood for an offering that will take your own son’s life?  What is it like to walk for three days trusting God while carrying the burden about what you are about to do all by yourself?  You might be tempted to think, “I’m sure glad I’m not in Abraham’s shoes.”  The Truth is, you are in Abraham’s shoes.  We are all called to a sacrificial faith in God that puts everything on the line.  So, as we meditate, how does it feel?

Genesis 22:1-8
Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Take your time and quietly reflect on how this passage makes you feel.  resist the temptation to jump ahead and search for a happy ending.  Remember, Abraham didn't know how the story was gong to end.  And most of the time, we don't know how our troubles will end.  We have to walk as did Abraham, buy faith--trusting God will take care of it, but not knowing when or how.  Use your imagination to be Abraham in the passage through meditation as you commune with God in prayer.

I hope you found this blog helpful and will give Praying the Scripture (AKA Meditating Prayer) more attention.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Formation Prayer

Preface - 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.

People of earth, take me to your leader.
We are the people of earth. This is our home. It is not just that we are from the earth.  The Bible says we were made from her.  For God, in the beginning, made us from the dust of the ground.  He formed us with his hands. He shaped us in His image and gave us dominion over all the earth.

We were created with a purpose—to be in constant communion with God. Prayer is how we enjoy that fellowship. Far more than just folding our hands, bowing our heads, and closing our eyes to say a few words that mimic what we hear the preacher say on Sunday in church, prayer is placing ourselves back into the hands of the One who formed us in our mother's womb to continue the work of shaping us into the people He wants us to be.  And so, today, I want to talk a little on formation prayer.

Formation prayer is the intentional act of letting go of self and letting God’s form in us His attitudes, behaviors, and goals.

Isaiah 29:16
How foolish can you be?  He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!  Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”?  Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”?

Formation Prayer
In the church, we like to say “Prayer changes things.”  The most important thing it changes is us.  We are bound to change as we rub up against God Eternal through prayer.  When we start out praying, our prayers are mostly asking God to change our situations.  Often times, we are in those situations because of our own actions.  When I was a kid, my older brother had a BB gun and I wanted one so bad.  My mom was wise enough to know I shouldn't have one; I was mature enough yet.  Finally, I grew old enough she thought it would be OK and my brother handed down his Daisy Red Rider BB Gun.  I invite my friend Paul over and we played with it all day!  That was, until my pesky little sister started bugging us.  She was two-years-younger than me and she always wanted to bother me when my friends came over.  Finally, I'd had enough and I told her if she didn't leave us alone, I was gonna shoot her.  I pointed the BB gun at the ground near her feet and fired it to scare her.  The BB hit her in the foot and her world fell apart!  She ran off to tell my mom and I started to pray!  "Lord, please don't let my mama kill me!  And don't let her take the BB gun away!"  Well, God answered my prayers, sort of.  My mom didn't kill me, but she did take that BB gun away!  I obviously wasn't mature enough to have it yet.  You never point a gun at someone like that, even if you think it's unloaded and even if it's only a cheap, low-powered BB gun.  To many people have been maimed or killed that way.  I needed to learn to respect guns and thankfully I have.  My mom's lesson of taking that BB gun away from me when I was a kid helped teach me that lesson.

Perhaps you have heard of Abraham.  He is known as Father Abraham in three of the world's major religions--Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  Abraham gave the world a revolutionary idea.  He believed in God, but that wasn't that revolutionary.  Everyone in his day believed in God.  But Abraham believed in a God no one could see.  Everyone else worshiped animals or heavenly bodies or idol statues--things they could see, hear, and maybe even touch.  And along comes Abraham who believed an invisible God by faith alone.  People probably thought he was crazy, but Abraham knew it is important not to have any created thing represent the supreme God who created it all.  No idol could represent God and God later commanded Abraham descendants, "Do not make idols of any kind" (Exodus 20).  

It might be easier to worship an idol.  It doesn't take as much faith.  You can see it and touch it.  And you can make that idol god look like anything you want.  You can make it just the way it pleases you.  Plus, you can keep that idol put away in a drawer or the corner of some temple and only bring it out when you need something.  Then, you can put it away until the next time you need something.  Furthermore, if that idol ever tells you something you don't like, you can throw it away and make yourself a new god who will never say or do anything you don't like.  

Sure, that would be easy, but we know that's not the way it works, right?  We don't make God.  God makes us.  However, there is a way of praying--that many people practice--that treats God like some idol statue you can take out and pray to when you want something and then put him away back in some dark and forgotten drawer once we get what we want.  But that’s not real.  That’s not who God is.  We can’t control Him and we don’t tell Him what to do.  We've got things turned upside down up if we think that’s the way prayer works.

It was God who made us.  We are the idols—the images made to look like God.  We are the only idols authorized in the Bible.  God authorized us to look like Him.  The Eternal and Living God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, The One True God, the Great I am, who spoke the universe into existence, lovingly took the dirt of the earth into His divine hands and formed us and shaped us in His image.  And He is still working His art in Your life today.  Our job, then, is to yield to His vision.  Formation prayer is the method through which we yield.

Hummus and Humility
My wife and I discovered a new snack food called hummus about 15 years ago when I was in seminary.  I was the first one to try it.  They served some free food to the starving seminary students at Emory and I was glad for the free food.  They said, "Here try this.  It's called hummus."  I said, "What's hummus?"  They said, "It's popular in Mediterranean countries like Israel.  It's made from ground up chickpeas, olive oil, and lemon juice."  I tried is and it was pretty good.  Hummus used to be an exotic dish, but it's now become quite popular.  You can get it at the grocery store just about everywhere. now.

Hummus, comes from the same root word as humas, which means soil—specifically the layer of topsoil that is packed with organic matter that makes agriculture possible—like the amazing corn fields I see all around my community every summer.  Human also comes from the same root word; we are people of the earth and made from earth.

Humility is another word that grows out of the same family of words.  So there’s this connection between humanity, humility, and the earth:  humility is lowliness like the dirt of the earth (which is what we are made of); also, there is the idea of being grounded in the dirt.  Humility is freedom from pride or arrogance.  Some people think of humility as having low self-esteem, but that’s not it.  To be humble is to understand who you really are according to God.  Humility is knowing the world doesn’t revolve around me; it is having my place in the universe as a human in proper perspective.  We were made from dirt, humus, but we were made by the very hands of God in His image.  So humility also recognizes how unique and special we are without leaving us with a big head that thinks we don’t need God.

Christians are called to be humble humans.  But how do we become humble people of Earth?  We certainly aren't born that way.  Most children start out thinging the world revolves around them.  We have to grow beyond that self-centered mentality with God's help.  Through prayer, we can cooperate with the Hands of God that want to sculpt humility into our humanity.

Let me share some prayer exercises that can help God establish more humility with you.

The Little Way
The first prayer exercise is called “The Little Way”.  To follow the little way means that throughout the day you actively seek out the most menial jobs, welcome unjust criticisms, befriend people who annoy you, and help those who are ungrateful.  There are lowly jobs like washing dishes, taking out the trash, cleaning the toilet, and other task that may seem beneath our rank in society or where we work.  Rather than avoiding these, make a point to get your hands dirty with these jobs.  Actively seek them out.  It will help you develop humility by remembering you are not too important.  We also all know people who get on our nerves and really annoy us.  But rather than avoiding them, seek to be their friend and rpay that God would help you to love them the way He loves you.  Realise that you are annoying to someone too, but God still loves you.  So, intentionally seek out and befriend people that bug you and it will help make you humble.  Follow the little way toward humility.

Another prayer practice that can help us with humility is solitude.  Solitude means to take some time to be lonely.  It is a great practice to get away from people for a little while so you stop worrying so much about what people think and remember to care more about what God thinks.

In the age of social media, we are constantly sharing with others what we are doing, where we are, what we’re eating, etc.  Through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, we are in constant contact with our “friends” and the whole world has a chance to give us feedback about what they think.  Think how much more spiritually grounded we would be if we were as constantly connected with God as seeking His approval as we are with our social media networks.  What if we sent a snapchat to God in prayer as often as we snapchatted with our friends.  What if we posted or tweeted a prayer as often as we do on Facebook or Twitter.  Through solitude, we step away from the world—both our face-to-face interactions with people and our virtual interactions through social media—to focus on interacting only with the God who forms us.  

Jesus, the Son of God, knew the great benefit of going away to be by himself.  At the outset of his ministry, he spent forty days alone in the wilderness fasting and communing with God in prayer.  It prepared him for his three years of public ministry, culminating in his death and resurrection to save the world from sin.

But who has the time (or spiritual fortitude) in our crazy, hectic, and fast-paced world to go away and spend “forty days alone in the wilderness”?  Well, some people do.  There are some who are retired or have the kind of career that would allow an extended spiritual pilgrimage like Jesus took.  It might require a great sacrifice of time and money, but it is possible.  For most, that long a pigrimage is just not practical.  But if not 40 days, how about one weekend.  Most people could manage that.  There are even spiritual retreats like the Walk to Emmaus that are tailored to guiding people into deeper spirituality through study, contemplation, and solitude.  Certainly, everyone could manage one day or or one afternoon of solitude.

We often say we “don’t have time” for alone time with God; usually, the truth is we don’t make time.  We “make time” for the things that are a priority in our life.  Who do you know who was busier than Jesus Christ during the three years of his ministry on earth.  Crowds of needy people followed him all over the countryside begging for food, for healing, for wisdom, for salvation.  There were also those who despised him, who opposed him, who argued with him, who were threatened by him and wanted him dead.  The Gospels often say he was surrounded and pressed by the crowds so that his only way to escape was to get in a boat and flee out across the Sea of Galilee where the crowds couldn’t follow.  And yet still, the Gospels say again and again that Jesus “got up early before everyone else to go spend time alone with God in prayer.”  If the Son of God needed solitude, how is it that we don’t think we need it?

Could you not find a few extra minutes in your day to spend some time alone with God, worrying more about what He thinks of you than your friends on Facebook and Instagram?  This is possible for most of us, but it means we have to be intentional to carve out some private time for us and God and start to change our mindset so we become more interested in what God wants for us than what the world thinks about us.

Romans 12:2 says, "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Above all, we must pray that God would take us in His hands and form us like a Master Potter forms clay.  As we humble ourselves, our flaws are revealed and we lift them up to God to change them to conform more fully to His glory.  For the God who formed Adam from the dust of the earth is still forming people today.  He wants to hold you in His mighty hands and sculpt you into a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that reflects His divine image perfectly.  But He won’t force His artistry upon you.  You must open your life to Him and invite His hands to take hold of you.  Will you?

I invite you to take a few moments to go to the Lord privately right now.  I give you this time to be alone with God in solitude to speak to Him and invite Him to form you into His image.