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Showing posts with label prayer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prayer. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Praying Through The Psalm by McKenzi Marlow

Today, I am pleased to share the second instalment in a series on prayer by a member of my church, McKenzi Marlow.  McKenzi is a talented young lady who graduated Summa Cum Laude from Samford University with a BA in English and literature concentration.  McKenzi will enter the English Masters program at Auburn University this fall where she will also be teaching and doing research.  Today, McKenzi shares about her experience with praying through the Psalms over the last week and over the weekend while on a trip to Austin, Texas.

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Hello regular readers of Pastor Chris’ blog!

As I mentioned last week, most of my prayers up until now have been collections of petitions and intercessions to God. It wasn’t until I began seeking Christ and Christian community on my own in college that I realized prayer was deeper and more complex. Last week, Dr. Floyd’s article introduced the idea of beginning prayer time with scripture. Since opening my prayers with Psalm 63 had been beneficial, I decided this week would be the perfect time to learn how to pray through the whole book of Psalms. 

I began, as anyone would in the 21st century, by Googling “how to pray the Psalms.” One of the first links led me to The Upper Room website and their articles on prayer. According to The Upper Room staff writer, the book of Psalms is known in both the Jewish and Christian traditions as the “prayer book of the Bible.” Unlike a normal poetry collection, the Psalms are meant to be used in conversation with God; to praise Him, exalt Him, and tell Him our anxieties. The Upper Room article says, “[The Psalms] teach us to hide nothing from God, but to bring all that is real into the only relationship that can bless and heal the worst in us.” Confirmed in my suspicion that Psalms are the key to a healthy prayer life, I decided to let the “words of the Psalms accompany [me] into God’s presence” this week (“Praying the Psalms”). 

Unlike Dr. Floyd, The Upper Room failed to provide me with specific instructions for praying the Psalms. To their credit, they did include a list of Psalms to pray in certain situations. If I felt contented, for example, The Upper Room recommended Psalm 23. If I felt anxious, they recommended Psalm 70. Though helpful, this list is not a structured method for prayer. Disappointed, I turned once again to Google. To my relief, I stumbled upon “How to Pray the Psalms” by Pastor Benjamin Kandt. Kandt is the pastor of formation and mission at New City Church in Orlando. In his article, he gives a brief explanation of how to—you guessed it—go about praying the Psalms. Though his article is not a prayer method outline like Dr. Floyd’s, I still found Kandt’s observations beneficial. 

The first tip Pastor Kandt gives is “pray through the whole Psalter.” Psalters are collections of Psalms “arranged for liturgical worship in Christian churches” meaning they are intended for public, corporate worship like hymnals (Kiczek). For those of us who do not own Psalters, Pastor Kandt gives instructions for using our familiar Bibles. He gives two methods. To simulate the structure of the Psalter you can, “Multiply the day of the month by five and pray those psalms” (Kandt). Now, if you’re anything like me, you balk at the mention of math, even if it’s a simple calculation. Nevertheless, I whipped out my phone and crunched the numbers. Since it was the fourteenth of June, I was supposed to begin with Psalm 70. Great! But I had a problem: where should I stop? According to his article, Pastor Kandt prayed five psalms in succession. Should I just count up from 70 and pray Psalms 70-74? Perturbed, I decided to review the second way to simulate the Psalter. Kandt writes we can forgo math (hooray) and “start with Psalm 1 and pray it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. . . [moving] to Psalm 2 the next day.” Needless to say, I chose this method. 

My method selected, I read Kandt’s next tip. His second bullet point says to “make the psalm’s words your words.” Whether the psalmist is lamenting or praising, we are meant to take their emotion in stride instead of hopping around looking for the right words to fit our mood. As I moved through the first seven psalms, I found it difficult to push myself to feel negative emotions, especially when I went on vacation. It’s hard to call for vengeance on your enemies while surrounded by friends. It is important, however, not to skip over psalms of vengeance or sorrow when we aren’t feeling those negative emotions. In Romans, Paul says we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12: 5). In other words, we are supposed to empathize with our fellow man. If I can’t even identify with a psalmist’s joy and sorrow, how am I going to do so with my friends’ and family’s. Allowing the psalmist’s phrases to guide my prayers meant my laments were longer, but when I did get to praise God, my joy was brighter.

While we pray through the Psalms, regardless of their tone, Kandt recommends we “meditate on [them].” This step was difficult for me, especially while I was vacationing. Getting up thirty minutes earlier than everyone else to ponder the Psalms after staying up thirty minutes later the night before was not something I really wanted to do. It required a lot of discipline to sit still and reread verses that jumped out at me. Most of the time I could feel my mind trying to wander while I attempted to let God “shine His light” on the passage (Kandt). 

Kandt’s fourth tip is to “memorize the Psalms.” In times of spiritual speechlessness—those nights when you just don’t know what to say to our Father—having the Word stored away will help you articulate what you need to say. Last week, I decided I didn’t have time to memorize anything properly, but I will be circling back to memorization in my private spiritual life. I already have the opening verse of Psalm 63 locked and loaded! 

Kandt’s fifth tip is to “pray the psalms like an apple tree or Christmas tree.” When I saw that line for the first time, I raised an eyebrow at its childish, Bible School vocabulary only to sheepishly force the brow back down after reading his explanation. Those phrases are actually useful! Kandt explains apple picking as choosing “pleas and praises” from the Psalms and making them your own. As an English major, I try to avoid taking quotes out of context to use for my specific purposes, which is what Kandt’s apple picking sounded like to me. That left the Christmas tree method. 

With the Christmas tree method, you simply “[hang] your pleas and praises” from the Psalm’s words. As I allowed the different psalms to inform my mood and length of my prayers, I was glad the Christmas tree method was so customizable. For example, Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man / who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” I read the verse and then began hanging my plea and praise. I prayed, “Father, help me turn from the counsel of the wicked and listen to Your good instructions instead.” Here, I pleaded for salvation from wicked counsel and praised God’s goodness. With that branch decorated, I moved on to the next verse. By the end of the passage, I felt like I’d had a fulfilling, deep conversation with someone close to me. 

The sixth and final tip is to “pray the Psalm through Jesus & with Jesus.” This tip works in tandem with the third, meditation. As you’re sitting there, eyes closed, attempting to mull over a specific word or phrase that stuck out to you, imagine Jesus doing the same thing. When I lamented, I imagined Him lamenting in the Garden of Gethsemane, and when I praised God, I imagined Jesus praising Him after performing miracles to reveal His glory. I felt closer to Jesus because I realized I was praying the same words He would have known, loved, and used two thousand years ago. This revelation added an extra layer of fervent awe to my prayers even as I struggled to be still during meditation. 

At the end of the week, my prayer life felt a little dehydrated. I started strong, Christmas tree-ing every Psalm I read, all three times I read it, but by the end of the week, I was just throwing random ornaments at the passage as I let my eyes scan the words. Autopilot praying isn’t fair to God, and it definitely isn’t going to help our relationship flourish. I think Pastor Kandt’s tips are useful, but they would benefit from having more structure or at least a journaling session as the final step. Though disappointed, I appreciate the challenge that praying the Psalms posed. Wish me luck as I attempt to follow my third method this week. I’ll let you know how it goes! 

In Christ,
Mckenzi Marlow


Citation:

Kandt, Benjamin. “How to Pray the Psalms.” praypsalms.org, Medium, 16 July 2017, https://praypsalms.org/how-to-pray-the-psalms-60484747091a 

Kiczek, Steven. “Cataloging Biblical Materials: Differentiating Psalms from Psalters.” Princeton University Library’s Cataloging Documentation, Princeton University Library, https://library.princeton.edu/departments/tsd/katmandu/bible/psalmpsalter.html 

“Praying the Psalms.” The Upper Room, upperroom.org , 2021, https://www.upperroom.org/resources/praying-the-psalms

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Prayer As A Spiritual Journey by McKenzi Marlow

Today, I am pleased to share the first instalment in a series on prayer by a member of my church, McKenzi Marlow.  McKenzi is a talented young lady who graduated Summa Cum Laude from Samford University with a BA in English and literature concentration.  McKenzi will enter the English Masters program at Auburn University this fall where she will also be teaching and doing research.  I plan to post McKenzi's blogs each week on Wednesday.  I invite you to follow along!

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Hello regular readers of Pastor Chris’s blog! 

My name is Mckenzi Marlow, and I have recently graduated college. Idling between college and grad school, I asked Pastor Chris if there was any way for me to get involved with the church this summer. To my surprise, he asked me to do a blog series on prayer. For the next three weeks, I will be attempting different pastors’ prayer methods, recording my progress, and sharing with all of you here. Though I’m nervous for the challenge of communicating my thoughts on spiritual things, I am excited to dive deeper into my own prayer life and grow closer to my Heavenly Father. 

For this week’s post, I checked out Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s prayer method. Dr. Floyd is the Senior Pastor of Cross Church and founder of the Cross Church School of Ministry. In an article I found on Crosswalk.com, Floyd speaks of prayer as a “spiritual journey.” Before I read that phrase, I’d always thought of prayer as simple communication with God, like sending a passive report to your boss once a day to check in and make sure your requests are being heard. Dr. Floyd, however, understands prayer as an active expedition into our spiritual lives. When we pray, our “spiritual destination” is open communication with God, but to “reach [it] effectively and consistently” we must have a plan (Floyd). If there is anything I need after a year of pandemic and pandemonium, it’s consistent, effective communication with my Creator, Lord, and Father. 

Though the act of prayer is more complex than I had imagined, Dr. Floyd assured me his plan was “simple, sequential, specific, and spiritual.” To my delight, he was correct. Usually, my prayers, whether silent or aloud, become confused or distracted by other thoughts in my head instead of staying engaged with God. Floyd’s method not only helped me talk to God, it gave me an ordered, specific way of going about it, and if there’s anything my Type A brain loves it’s order and specificity. 

Dr. Floyd breaks down his process into three easy steps. The first step is simple: read your Bible. According to Floyd, “The Word of God and prayer go hand in hand.” I’m embarrassed to admit that in my eighteen years as a cognitive Christian, I had never thought to pick up my Bible before I prayed. I had heard of praying through the Psalms before, so Monday night I grabbed my black leather Bible and flipped to a random page. My eyes scanned, “You, God, are my God / Earnestly I seek you” (Psalm 63). Apparently, God was glad I’d finally figured out how to text him back. I continued to use this Psalm to open my prayers each night, and as I grew more familiar with the neat lines of black text, I grew more familiar with my Father. 

If the first item on Floyd’s list is simple, the second is more so: Pray. In the Crosswalk article, Floyd outlines some principles for us to follow. To begin, we should confess our sins. I wasn’t sure how to do this since I know I sin a lot in a day, sometimes without even realizing it, but I don’t necessarily keep track. I decided to do a blanket confession. I also asked God to reveal each sin to me as it happens so we can work on eradicating those together. The purpose of my walk with God is to become more like Jesus; though I know I can never be perfect, I can at least try to be good. The best part is, I know God hears my confessions and accepts my repentance each time I stumble. 

After confession, Floyd says to praise God. That one’s easy! Or is it? God has done so much both in the Bible and in my own life. . .how can I manage to praise him for everything? Floyd recommends we focus on three of God’s attributes. This week I chose His patience, goodness, and power. In my Bible, I flipped to moments in Genesis and Exodus that exhibit His power. I chose to listen to “Good Good Father” to meditate on His goodness. For patience, I reminisced about all the times in my life He had to patiently wait for me to turn back to Him. As Floyd’s method became routine for me, I noticed each of God’s attributes are linked together. Saving the Israelites from slavery with ten plagues is an example not only of His awesome power, but of His goodness and patience as well. 

After we confess our sins and praise God, Floyd writes we must thank Him. This week I thanked God for tiny things in my life like the double rainbow I saw coming back from the gym, and the women’s Bible study I’ve been able to find community in this summer. Next come petition and intercession. I tend to confuse the two categories, but Floyd defines petition as “prayer on personal needs” while intercession is praying for other people. To my delight, he even provided us with a schedule for intercessory prayers! I found following it to be rewarding because I was able to devote equal time to each subject instead of rushing through everything on my prayer list without a backwards glance. I’ve included the rotation below: 

              Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s Weekly Intercession Rotation:

                             Sunday: World missions/missionaries

                             Monday: Lost and unchurched

                             Tuesday: the United States

                             Wednesday: Friends

                             Thursday: Christian leaders

                             Friday: Your local church

                             Saturday: Relatives 

Petition and intercession were familiar to me, since most of my past prayers have involved a mixture of the two. For his final prayer step, Floyd devotes an extra category to requests “so critical [they require] daily attention from you for a specific time or until the crisis has passed.” These are called urgent requests. I didn’t have any this week, thank goodness, so I chose to skip this part though I appreciated Floyd’s separation. I tend to throw everything into the urgent category without a second glance, but differentiating between intercession, petition, and urgent reminded me God has everything under control. I was able to relax and simply enjoy speaking to Him. 

The third and final step in Dr. Floyd’s prayer method is: journal. I was surprised to see that the type of entry Floyd encourages is a one page letter to God. He explains letters are “concrete” and “[provide] a sense of relief from your burdens,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Floyd writes, “As you document your walk with God. . .your faith in the power of prayer will increase.” At the beginning of this week, I was hopeful. I mean, that’s what this whole blog project is about: Mckenzi rekindling her faith in the power of prayer. And here, at the end of the week, the night before this blog post is due, I’m elated to report I already feel a sense of plush peace when I begin to pray instead of exhausted duty. I flipped back through my letters before editing this post, and I noticed the ones from the beginning of the week are concerned with petitions and intercessions. At the end, however, they are odes to God’s attributes and His love for me. The letters grow more personal as the days pass, and I am thankful I finally feel as if I have a true intimate relationship with a Heavenly Father even as I serve the Great I Am. 

I found Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s prayer method to be easy to follow and successful in deepening my relationship with God. This Monday, I’ll be attempting to follow a new prayer method. I am excited to grow even further in my relationship with God, and I hope by the end of this project I’ll be able to create my own personalized prayer method using all of the techniques I learn. 

Until next week,

Mckenzi 

Works Cited:

Floyd, Ronnie. “How to Have a Personal Prayer Plan.” Crosswalk.com, Crosswalk.com, 19 May 2017, https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/how-to-have-a-personal-prayer-plan.html

 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

How to Pray for 30 Minutes

How to Pray for 30 Minutes
The following is one way you can pray for 30 minutes.  It’s adapted from a formula offered online by Athens First United Methodist Church.  If you struggle to pray for extended periods of time, perhaps this could help.  I encourage you to give it a try.  The formula is broken down into sections that include: Praise, Reading Scripture, Meditation, Confession, Intercession, Listening, Recording, Petitions, Praying for Family, Praying for the Church, Praying for Government Leaders, and Giving Thanks.  If you pray each section for 2 and a half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  You will need a few things to follow this formula:  a Bible, a Notebook, a pen or pencil, and a quiet place where you can be a alone and uninterrupted for 30 minutes.

Praise
Start by praising God.  Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”  This is a great way to begin 30 minutes of prayer.  Call out to God. Praise Him for creation. Think about His love and wisdom and praise Him.  Think about the wonder of God’s creation and how they testify to the glory of God. And praise God for who He is.  Just revel in the wonder of the God of the universe.

Read Scripture
II Timothy 3:16–17 says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good.”  Read a Psalm of praise to the Lord. Here are some suggestions:  Psalm 100, Psalm 23, Psalm 121, or Psalm 34 (or pick another one you like).  Pray through a Bible passage using the words as your prayer. Ask God to help you understanding as you read His Word. Let the Scriptures fill your mind and impact your heart. 

Meditate on God’s Word
Psalm 119:11 says, “I treasure your word in my heart.” Take a few minutes to meditate on the Scripture you have just read (or on other passages that come to mind).  Mull them over again and again in your mind.  What is God saying to you through them?

Confess
I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Take some time to evaluate specific attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions that God brings to mind as you pray. Confess your sins to God and humbly ask for His forgiveness and cleansing. 

Intercede
I Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” Pray to the Lord on behalf of others. Pray for renewal in the hearts of believers. Pray diligently for the needs that come to mind.

Listen
Next, quiet your heart and be still before God. Psalm 29:2, 4 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; worship the Lord in holy splendor… the voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”  Ask God to speak to you. Be quiet and listen.

Record your Prayers and Insights
Now, take out your notebook and something with which to write .  Take a few minutes to write down some notes that come to mind.  Write down the insights and direction God gave you during your prayer time. You can even write out a prayer or something you think God wants you to do.  It takes a little bit longer to write words than to say or think them.  Writing encourages you to slow down and dwell with God as He organizes your thoughts.

Petition for Daily Needs
Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So spend a few minutes sharing your personal requests with God.  What do you need?  What are you worrying about?  Talk to God about it.

Pray for Family
Psalm 133:1 says, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
We want our family to live together in unity.  So, pray for your family. Pray for families in general. Ask the Lord to strengthen marriages and uphold family relationships.

Pray for the Church
1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Pray for Pleasant Grove United Methodist church and all who seek to know the Lord there, and pray for our church leaders.  Go over your church prayer list.  Pray for the United Methodist Denomination as we prepare to tackle some very divisive issues at our next General Conference.  And pray for the universal Body of Christ, which is made up of believers all over the world of all different denominations.

Pray for Government Leaders
1 Timothy 2:2 says, “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”  Spend a few minutes to pray that God will give our government leaders wisdom and understanding. Pray for local, national, and international concerns. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  We need God to heal our land.  So pray for it.

Give Thanks
Now it’s time to finish your 30 minutes of prayer.  You may now find that 30 minutes is not enough time.  If your schedule allows it, you can keep praying.  God would love that!  But, when it’s time to finish praying, think about the good gifts God has given you and express your gratitude for His care and provision. Praise God for all He has done and for all He will do.  As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Closing

If you follow this simple formula, praying each section for about two-and-a-half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  It’s not that hard.  Perhaps the hardest part is making the time and committing to do it. 

February 17, 2021 is Ash Wednesday and begins the 40-day season of Lent—a season for Christians to devote themselves to prayer in preparation for the Easter celebration coming up in April.  Perhaps you can use this formula to pray for 30 minutes each day throughout the 40-day season of Lent.  You might find you like it so much, you want to make it a regular part of your day even after Lent is over.  I challenge you to give it a try.  Send me and email and tell me what time of day you want to pray and I will include you on our prayer board. 

Prayer is the lifeblood of a person’s relationship with God.  You can know about God (just like you can know about a famous athlete or celebrity); but prayer is spending time with God.  It is essential for every Christian to be devoted to prayer.  Let’s begin today.

Monday, February 24, 2020

How to Pray for 30 Minutes


Introduction
A couple weeks ago, Judy Forester came to me after church and said she was really concerned about so many things that are going on in our world--problems in our denomination, divisions in our nation.  It just seems there is so much darkness in our world.  And so Judy asked, "Is there some way we could have a day of prayer and just ask people to pray for all these things?"  I said, "Absolutely!"  And so, we have designated February 27 as a day of prayer and fasting.  This Wednesday at our , Ash Wednesday service, I will share a little about the spiritual discipline of fasting.  Today, I want to teach you how to pray for 30 minutes.

1 Timothy 2:1-4
1 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.

Why Pray?
Before I begin teaching you how to pray for 30 minutes, I need to convince you that you must pray.  At its heart, prayer is communion with God. Prayer is the lifeblood of Christianity. Prayer is not just something Christian's do, it is the soul of who we are.  Christians believe we were created by God for a real, personal relationship with God.  If you’re not praying, you’re not communing in an active, real, and personal relationship with God. 
Can you be real friend if you never talk to or spend time with your best friends?
Can you be a good husband or wife if you never talk to or spend time with your spouse?
Can you be a real parent if you never spend time with or talk to your children?  (Sure, you can create life and give birth, but you cannot be a legitimate parent unless you have a real, personal relationship with your kids.)

Prayer is the way we spend time with God.  As with most vibrant relationships, our prayer relationship with God usually involves talking.  You don’t have to use fancy language or try to make a speech.  You don’t even have to talk like the preacher when he prays on Sunday morning (actually, please don’t!).  You have to realize, the kind of prayer a preacher prays on Sundays in church is different from the prayers we offer when we are all alone and talking to God.  Prayers said at a church service are public prayers; they're for everyone and it requires the worship leader to pray on behalf of everyone.  But when I’m all by myself and praying, I’m just talking to God like a kid talks to their mom or dad. 

Sometimes, prayer is not talking at all.  It’s just being with God—maybe sitting quietly or reading a book together, watching a movie, listening to music, or riding in the car.  Friday and Saturday, my wife and I took a trip to Ashville, NC just to get away for a couple days.  It was a three-and-a-half-hour drive.  Do you think we talked the entire time? (Some people might be able to do that, but not me or Kelly.  We are relatively quiet people and that would frankly drive us crazy.  I’m so glad I married someone with whom I can just be quiet.)  Sometimes, spending time with God through prayer is just being quiet together or listening to what He has to say as you prayerfully read your Bible or listen to some music or take a walk together. 

How to Pray for 30 Minutes
Alright, enough explanation about prayer.  How do you do it?  And how can you do it for 30 minutes?  The following is one way you can pray for 30 minutes.  It’s adapted from a formula offered online by Athens First United Methodist Church.  If you struggle to pray for extended periods of time, perhaps this could help you.  I encourage you to give it a try.  In your bulletin, you will find an outline to help you follow this 30-minute plan for prayer.  The formula is broken down into sections that include: Praise, Reading Scripture, Meditation, Confession, Intercession, Listening, Recording, Petitions, Praying for Family, Praying for the Church, Praying for Government Leaders, and Giving Thanks.  If you pray each section for 2 and a half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  You will need a few things to follow this formula:  A Bible, A Notebook and a pen or pencil, A quiet place where you can be a alone and uninterrupted for 30 minutes.

Praise
Start by praising God.  Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”  This is a great way to begin 30 minutes of prayer.  Call out to God. Praise Him for creation. Think about His love and wisdom and praise Him.  Think about the wonder of God’s creation and how they testify to the glory of God. And praise God for who He is.  Just revel in the wonder of the God of the universe.

Read Scripture
II Timothy 3:16–17 says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good.”  Read a psalm of praise to the Lord. Here are some suggestions:  Psalm 100, Psalm 23, Psalm 121, or Psalm 34 (or pick another one you like).  Pray through a Bible passage using the words as your prayer. Ask God to help you understanding as you read His Word. Let the Scriptures fill your mind and impact your heart. 

Meditate on God’s Word
Psalm 119:11 says, “I treasure your word in my heart.” Take a few minutes to meditate on the Scripture you have just read (or on other passages that come to mind).  Mull them over again and again in your mind.  What is God saying to you through them?

Confess
I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Take some time to evaluate specific attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions that God brings to mind as you pray. Confess your sins to God and humbly ask for His forgiveness and cleansing. 

Intercede
I Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” Pray to the Lord on behalf of others. Pray for renewal in the hearts of believers. Pray diligently for the needs that come to mind.

Listen
Next, quiet your heart and be still before God. Psalm 29:2, 4 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; worship the Lord in holy splendor… the voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”  Ask God to speak to you. Be quiet and listen.

Record your Prayers and Insights
Now, take out your notebook and something to write with.  Take a few minutes to write down some notes that come to mind.  Write down the insights and direction God gave you during your prayer time. You can even write out a prayer or something you think God wants you to do.  It takes a little bit longer to write words than to say or think them.  Writing forced you to slow down and dwell with God as He organizes your thoughts.

Petition for Daily Needs
Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So spend a few minutes sharing your personal requests with God.  What do you need?  What are you worrying about?  Talk to God about it.

Pray for Family
Psalm 133:1 says, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
We want our family to live together in unity.  So, pray for your family. Pray for families in general. Ask the Lord to strengthen marriages and uphold family relationships.

Pray for the Church
1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Pray for Pleasant Grove United Methodist church and all who seek to know the Lord there, and pray for our church leaders.  Go over the prayer list found in the bulletin.  Pray for the United Methodist Denomination as we prepare to tackle some very divisive issues at our next General Conference in May.  And pray for the universal Body of Christ, which is made up of believers all over the world of all different denominations.

Pray for Government Leaders
1 Timothy 2:2 says, “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”  Spend a few minutes to pray that God will give our government leaders wisdom and understanding. Pray for local, national, and international concerns. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  We need God to heal our land.  So pray for it.

Give Thanks
Now it’s time to finish your 30 minutes of prayer.  You may now find that 30 minutes is not enough time.  If your schedule allows it, you can keep praying.  God would love that!  But, when it’s time to finish praying, think about the good gifts God has given you and express your gratitude for His care and provision. Praise God for all He has done and for all He will do.  As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Closing
If you follow this simple formula, praying each section for about two-and-a-half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  It’s not that hard.  Perhaps the hardest part is making the time and committing to do it. 

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and it begins the 40-day season of Lent—a season for Christians to devote themselves to prayer in preparation for the Easter celebration coming up in April.  Perhaps you can use this formula to pray for 30 minutes each day throughout the 40-day season of Lent.  You might find you like it so much, you want to make it a regular part of your day even after Lent is over.  I challenge you to give it a try.

Prayer is the lifeblood of a person’s relationship with God.  You can know about God (just like you can know about a famous athlete or celebrity); but prayer is spending time with God.  It is essential for every Christian to be devoted to prayer.  Let’s begin today.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Covenant Prayer


Preface
Christmas has come.  We’ve celebrated the birth of Christ, but we are still waiting for him to come again as he promised.  The birth of Christ is only part of the story.  The story continues and is marked at every turn by commitment and sacrifice.  Every good thing worth having comes through commitment and sacrifice.  Listen to the extended story of Christ’s birth and childhood.

Slides – Luke 2:21-42
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.

Introduction
Many people want their spiritual life to be spectacular—to be filled with passion and miracles and signs and wonders.  They want worship to always be special; maybe that’s why so many only attend church on Christmas or Easter.  People want spirituality, not religion; they want to feel God’s love, but they don’t want to practice religious disciplines.  But that’s not the way things usually work in real life.  We don’t usually have a spectacular spiritual life if we don’t practice the daily commitment of religious discipline.  Furthermore, the signs and wonders of God’s intimate and powerful presence in our lives usually happen when we are in the midst of our daily spiritual habits. 

Mary and Joseph were just ordinary people like you and me, but the Bible also describes them as godly people.  They prayed.  They worshiped.  They study God’s Word.  They were committed to their religious duties.  It was in the midst of this religious life that the Angel appeared to Mary and the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus.  It was in the midst of a godly religious life that the Angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to remain committed to Mary, for she was pregnant with the Son of God.  And after the child was born, we see Mary and Joseph continued their religious duties.  They circumcised Jesus when he was 8-years-old, they followed the purification rites according to the Law of Moses, they continued their regular religious duties and even traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem every year. They also trained Jesus to be a faithful Jew.  By the time he was twelve and they took him to the Temple in Jerusalem, he had been studying the Bible (The Torah actually, which was the jewish Bible) and practicing his religion faithfully and knew the Word of God as well as the religious scholars.  Practice makes perfect; that's true in you spiritual life as well as anything else.  And it was true for Jesus too.

In our text this morning, we also see the religious commitment of an old man named Simeon.  He was righteous and devout.  And there was a widowed prophet named Anna, who was 84-years-old.  It says, “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”  A very “religious” woman, but her determined, daily commitment to religious practice (and also Simeon’s) led to a spectacular, once in a lifetime spiritual experience.  They both get to see and hold and pray with and bless the baby Jesus.

Things Worth Having
Things worth having are worth waiting for, working for, fighting for, and never giving up on.  The biggest, most important blessings in life come through commitment.  We celebrate the special moments of life—when a youth graduates from high school, a young couple get married, the birth of a child, etc.  We flood Facebook and Instagram with pictures capturing these special milestones.  But these moments in and of themselves are nothing if not bathed in deep, daily commitment.  It is not the marriage ceremony or the pictures that matter; it is the love that the bride and groom have for each other that compels them to remain by each other’s side in good times and bad time, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health their whole life long.  We anticipate the glorious birth of a child with a young couple, but the true glory is in the old women and men like Anna and Simeon who have lived a life of deep commitment and sacrifice, raising children and grandchildren, serving their friends, their church, their community. 

Covenant Prayer
Over the last month, I’ve shared about many different kinds of prayer.  We can experience some very special and intimate spiritual time with God through many different types of prayer.  I want to share one more.  It is called covenant prayer.  A covenant is an agreement.  It is a promise between God and His people.  Throughout the Bible, God has promised to care for His people.  And God calls His people to be committed in our relationships too--with people and with God.

A relationship can only go as far as our commitment to one another.  That’s why a man and a woman decide to get married and promise to love each other until death.  It assures the couple they can trust each other at the deepest, most vulnerable levels of life because they can trust their partner will not abandon them no matter what. 

The same principle applies in our spiritual lives.  If you want a deep spiritual life, if you want to experience the spectacular power and loving presence of God in your life, you’ve got to be deeply committed to God.  If you want real answers to the deep questions of life that go beyond those trite clich├ęs, you’ve got to be deeply committed.  If you want true healing from terrible scars, freedom from heavy chains, or true hope in the midst of hopelessness, you’ve got to be truly committed to the Healer, Liberator, and Source of all Hope.  Why would God cast His pearls before swine who would only trample them in the mud and then break out of the pen to run away to some other field?

Our deep commitment to God is an essential act of prayer that opens up true and deep communion with the One who makes life worth living, who brings answers to our most important questions, who shows us questions we never even thought to ask, and grants us true peace as we walk through life in the midst of His perfect will.

How Will you Be Committed in the Coming Year?
Our Covenant Prayer with God encompasses many areas.  There is the covenant of holy obedience.  God is the rightful ruler of all.  He deserve our obedience, not because of anything He has done for us, but because He is Lord of all.  Will you make a covenant to put obedience to God above yoru family, you nation, your career, everything?  Will you obey even if it makes you look strange or cost you?

There is the covenant of time.  We you make your time with God your first priority?  Prayer, worship, study, and service are important but not necessarily urgent.  There are always other commitments that try to steal your time, claiming to be more urgent that your devotional time.  And the truth is, the sky is not going to fall if you skip church or your prayer time or reading your Bible.  However, over time, we grow weak as we neglect the important religious exercise of prayer, study, worship, and service.  You will always reap what you sow.  And for years, decades, centuries, Americans have been neglecting these critical elements of religious life.  That's why we and our families and our communities have grown so spiritually weak.  Will you make a covenant with God to be faithful with your time?

There is the covenant of place.  We all need to worship, study, and pray in private.  But we cannot only do these in private.  We must also be part of a community of faith.  You cannot be a Christian only in private.  Christianity is a communal experience.  Will you make a covenant to be part of the Body of Christ--to worship and serve the Lord in the Church?  Where will that be?

There is the covenant of preparation. Will you covenant to come to worship prepared to be in the presence of the Lord?  So many people complain, "I don't get anything out of worship when I come to church."  Often times, those are the same people who stayed up extra late on Saturday night and who barely made it to worship on Sunday, who came in late, who sat in the pew the whole time thinking about what they would do for the rest of the day.  They weren't prepared to worship the Living God and they weren't fully present while they were here.  No wonder they didn't feel fed.  Do you realize, in worship, you are in the presence of the Lord of the universe.  He is so deep we cannot fathom Him, so infinite our finite minds cannot comprehend Him--even if we spent years preparing to visit with Him.  And yet, we do so little to prepare to meet Him!  We should at least begin preparing our heart on Saturday evening, get to bed on time, rise early on Sunday with plenty of time to spare, and be prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit's assistance the whole time to prepare us to meet our Lord in worship.  Will you make a covenant with God to be prepared to meet Him regularly?

There is the covenant of resources.  Jesus said, where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.  What you spend your time, energy, money, and resources on show what are your priorities.  Will you make a covenant to put God first with your financial giving, your time, and your other commitments?  For what you are truly committed to makes all the difference in what you receive spiritually.  We receive our greatest blessings through commitment and sacrifice. 

Your Covenant Commitments for 2019
I invite you to consider your covenant commitments for 2019.  I pray you will be fully committed, willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God, and thus receive the full blessing God wishes to grant you.  

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Prayer of Adoration

Introduction
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.