Prayer Is Not Counseling God!

-We Don’t Know What’s Best!

I’m afraid that many people treat prayer as their opportunity to counsel God on certain matters! We ought never pray like we’re trying to convince God that we know what’s best— As if the eternal all-wise God, who knows the end from the beginning & everything in between, needs our advice for anything! His eternal plans, for creation, were already laid out before the world began! The writer, of Acts, reminds us that  “The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things” Acts 17:24-27.

-God Doesn’t Need Our Counsel!

When it comes to prayer, let’s get one thing straight:  GOD DOESN’T NEED ANYTHING… INCLUDING OUR COUNSEL! He didn’t create us because of some deficiency, hoping that we could fix Him! There’s a clear, underlying message in Jesus’ response to His disciples question, “Lord, teach us to pray!” God doesn’t need us! We need Him! According to Jesus’ response, in Matthew 6, prayer is to be “GOD-CENTERED.” “Pray like this,” He says; and, He begins with the “Father.” Not with us! By the way He didn’t tell them to memorize it & repeat it mindlessly— “Our Father, who art in heaven…blah, blah, blah.” But, “…pray LIKE THIS…” He said. This is “how” we’re supposed to pray! It’s Jesus’ model prayer!

-Don’t Try Twisting God’s Arm!

Rather than making prayer our attempt to twist God’s arm over something we want Him to do, prayer should begin with a focus on God, the Father! Start your conversation, with the Creator of the universe, by honoring Him for His character! Praise Him for who He is! Don’t rush into His presence like your schedule is what matters— “Here’s my grocery list of needs, God! Will You go shopping for me?” Show Him reverence when you pray! You’re entering the throne room of Heaven! God transcends so far above anything on your agenda! There’s an order here! You’re kingdom 1st, Father! Our greatest desire should be that God’s name is hallowed, admired & cherished! And, He’s “our” Father too, Jesus says. Never get over that great Doctrine of Adoption— that God has birthed us into His family!

-We Become His Children!

Though we were born children of wrath, because of our sin, He adopts us into His family in Christ! We’re FAMILY! Depend on Him like He’s family because HE IS! We’re brothers, sisters, and joint-heirs with Jesus Himself! And, then, Jesus models prayer by moving from the Father’s  character to His “KINGDOM”— “YOUR kingdom come. YOUR will be done on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN” Matthew 6:10. So, pray like this, Jesus says— Pray for the Father’s KINGDOM & for His WILL!  If we’re praying like Jesus taught us to pray, our primary concern will be for the Father’s Glory! For the advancement of His kingdom! Our prayers will be “GOD-CENTERED.”  Take note of the things you pray for! Are your prayers motivated by your dreams & goals; or, by God’s eternal kingdom & His will & plans?  Mature believers pray for God’s will above their own!

 

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Lord, Teach Us To Pray!

-Bad Prayer Habits Abound!

I want to begin this series of posts, on the subject of prayer, by sharing, with you, the results of a survey of the “Top Ten Bad Prayer Habits.” Here they are:  #10—”My Prayers Are Just A Grocery List!” #9—”I Make My Grocery List During My Prayer Time!” #8—”I Only Pray By Myself!” #7—”I See Prayer Only As My Personal Wish List!” #6—”I Always Pray The Same Thing & Get Bored!” #5—”I Only Pray When I’m In A Crisis!” #4—”I Do All The Talking While I Pray!” #3—”I Can’t Stay Focused While I Pray!” #2—”I’m Just Too Busy To Start My Day With Prayer!” And, #1—”I Don’t Pray At All!” Can you identify with any of that? I can! I’m guessing we’ve all had; or, still do, have some bad prayer habits. Now, if you claim to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, you can see how that would be a bit problematic if you don’t pray at all, right?

-Praying Like Jesus!

There’s an amazing New Testament text, about prayer,  in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus was praying; and, when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray!” Now, let me share my take on that scenario. I see it kind of like one of our typical church prayer meetings! Jesus and His disciples are all gathered in a circle praying; and, the disciples have their little prayer lists—  “God, keep us safe from the Romans… Help Zebedee catch lots of fish today… Help us not to get leprosy! That’s been going around… Oh, and bless the missionaries!” And, when they finish they look up & Jesus is still praying! Minutes pass by! Maybe an hour! We don’t know! The text doesn’t tell us. But, I get the idea that things begin to feel a bit awkward as the inadequacy of their own prayer lives becomes evident. Maybe they start whispering among themselves, as they often did:  “Hey, ask Him how to pray!” “I’m not gonna ask Him, that would be embarrassing! It’d be like admitting I don’t know how to pray!” However it actually worked out, one of them wrenches up the courage to ask him:  “Lord, teach US how to pray!” Not “ME”; but, “US”! So, Jesus tells them how to pray! We need to pay attention here, church! To summarize, He tells them never to pray like they’re counseling God!

-When You Pray!

He told them: “…you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one...” Matthew 6:9-13. If you were to underline or highlight any of Jesus’ words here, I’d go back to v.5 “…whenever you pray…”; v. 6 “..when you pray…”; v.7 “…when you pray…”; and, “…pray like this…” in v.9.   Over the next couple posts, we’ll dig deeper into Jesus’ instruction about prayer! And, spoiler alert, Jesus makes it clear that God doesn’t need us to tell Him what to do! That’s not prayer! Don’t hang out a shingle and try to be “God’s Counselor”! Jesus tells them that prayer is how we align ourselves with God’s Sovereign plans!

 

A Distinctly Christ-Centered Home!

-It’s Counter-Intuitive To The Majority Culture!

(PART II) In so many ways, keeping step with Jesus and Scripture is counter-intuitive to the majority culture! The culture will often tell a woman to divorce her husband if they don’t share the same values! But, the Apostle Peter’s Holy Spirit inspired words tell us that a husband, who is disobedient to the Lord, “…may be won over without a message by the way their wives live…” 1 Peter 3:1.  She doesn’t need to NAG! It’s possible that the Spirit can use her life, in such a dramatic way, that her husband may be “won over WITHOUT A MESSAGE.” She doesn’t need to PREACH at him!

-Internal Adornment & Beauty!

And, Peter builds on that point in the verses that follow:  “…when they observe your pure, reverent lives. Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes” 1 Peter 3:2-4.  If you’re a wife, who’s a follower of Jesus, your life should be marked by an internal adornment and beauty! And, let’s be clear, Peter is not teaching that women should refrain from makeup and jewelry! What he’s saying is that your life should consist of more than the “paint” and “bling” on the outside! How shallow! Live pure & reverent lives, he says!

-Have A Beautiful Heart!

Focus on making your heart beautiful by yielding to God’s Word & his Spirit! Just because you CAN say something, doesn’t mean you should! Don’t give your husband a piece of your mind that you can’t afford to lose! My girls are familiar with a verse of Scripture that I often quoted to them:  “A beautiful woman without discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout” Proverbs 11:22.  Your hope ought to be placed in God’s Sovereignty—  “…in the past, holy women like Sarah PUT THEIR HOPE IN GOD as they submitted…” 1 Peter 3:5-6.  Go back and read the Genesis account of Abraham and Sarah’s life. It’s interesting that she was never present when God gave Abraham His instruction; but, she submitted to Abraham by putting her hope in God’s Sovereign control of the situation.  She let God work out the kinks in her husband’s head! She didn’t nag!

-Husband: Know Your Wife!

Let me finish by drawing your attention to Peter’s words, to the Christian husband: “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” 1 Peter 3:7. Your life, as a husband who follows Jesus, will be marked by an understanding of your wife! Now, I know that some of you men, reading this, are laughing inside— “You really think we can ever understand a woman?” No, I don’t! And, this is a subject I have a really hard time preaching on because I personally stink at it so badly! But, what it seems Peter is saying, in part, is that “…AS you LIVE with your wife, gain an understanding of her…” Study your wife! What causes her tension & frustration? Serve her in those areas! Be a help to her!

 

This Is Your Spiritual Worship!

-How Do You Define Worship?

Ask how the Bible defines worship, and, you may be surprised how wide & inclusive is the answer that’s given! Many of us perceive worship to be limited to this narrow part of a church service we call singing! For others, you grew up in a tradition where “worship” consisted of elaborate prayers spoken in the King James language—with all the “THEE’s” and “THOU’s”—very ritualistic & done in a “sanctuary” with stained-glass windows, lighted candles, incense & old classical sacred music with a pastor wearing a long, flowing robe! Each of those things can possibly contribute to authentic worship, provided the focus is on God & not some kind of warm, fuzzy, religious feeling you get from all those “accessories.”

-Is Worship An Activity?

Genuine worship is not an ACTIVITY, it’s an ATTITUDE of the heart—originating in your inner being; or, the REAL YOU; and, it changes your life! I guess that pretty wide and inclusive, isn’t it? Real, genuine worship impacts your entire life because you’re occupied with God, your Creator! Worship is being occupied with God’s character, with who He is—His love, His grace, His mercy, His kindness, His benevolence, His justice, His righteousness! It’s too praise Him for being a Good Father & a Faithful Friend & an indwelling Spirit who transforms us into His likeness as we’re engaged in genuine worship & reflect on His Beauty!

-Worship Re-Forms Us!

In other words, worship will gradually re-form us into His likeness—we become more loving, gracious, merciful, kind, benevolent, just & righteous! We become better fathers and mothers! We become more faithful friends all because we’re focused & occupied with God in worship! Romans 12:1-2 is one passage of Scripture that has recently arrested my attention because of what it has to say about worship! After breaking down the Gospel, of Christ, in the first 11 chapters, the Apostle Paul concludes:  “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship…” I had never considered this a definition of worship! But, in fact, it is!

-Paul’s Worship Definition!

Paul is defining “worship” for us! Look at it again: ! He begins with a command: “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…” And, than he says, “…THIS IS YOUR SPIRITUAL WORSHIP.” If you’ve even been curious about a good Biblical definition of “worship”; well, here it is! Why is that significant? Because we need to know HOW to worship God rightly; or, He will reject and dismiss our worship! I’m referring to the authority of God’s Word over every area of our lives!  The Scriptures are not only inspired, they’re authoritative! In other words, we don’t have the right to define “worship”—or, anything else for that matter—differently than God does in His Word. Paul is saying that genuine, spiritual worship impacts us & profoundly changes the way that we use our bodies—we sacrifice our bodies to please Him!

 

Don’t Worship God Empty-Handed

-Bring An Offering!

So, my last few posts have focused on King David’s communication to Israel, in 1 Chronicles 16, about the proper way to worship God.  It’s never acceptable to worship God according to our own homespun rules! We must worship Him in the way that He demands to be worshiped! One way, that David commanded the congregation to worship God, was with an offering! “Ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” v.29.  In other words, do NOT come to worship God empty-handed!

-We’re Not Owners!

Remember that we’re stewards of God’s “stuff.” Nothing, we have, actually belongs to us! We’re not really an owner of anything! We’re managers of a portion of God’s estate! God owns it ALL; and, proper worship includes a return, of a portion of His blessings to us, in the form of an offering! He’s the Creator! He’s created all the wealth, in the universe; and, He lends it to us! So, worship God because He’s the Creator! That’s how David continues his admonition to the people of Israel:  “…the world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The Lord is King!” Let the sea and everything in it resound; let the fields and all that is in them exult. Then the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth” v.30-33.

-All Creation Worships God!

All of creation—the heavens, the earth, the sea & everything in it; the fields and all that is in it; the trees of the forest—ALL creation worships Him! Finally, David concludes with a charge to worship God NOW because it’s what we’ll do for all eternity:  “Give thanks to the Lord, “ he says, “for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. And say: “Save us, God of our salvation; gather us and rescue us from the nations so that we may give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise. May Yahweh, the God of Israel, be praised from everlasting to everlasting” v.34. Clearly, it’s a sign that a believer has not spent a lot of time in prayer & the Word when they express a fear that heaven may be boring!

-We Can Only Imagine!

After a billion years, in heaven, we’ll still not know God entirely! No amount of intimacy, with Him, will close the gap in our knowledge & understanding of an eternal, infinite God! I’m certain that I’ll find Him more fascinating than all the Super Bowls and Star Trek reruns I’ve ever watched! Then all the people said “AMEN” & “Praise the Lord” v.36. And, there was great joy as God dwelt with His people as His Glory descended on the Ark of His Covenant with His people! One day, the book of Revelation says, “God will dwell among us”; literally, “He will pitch a tent among us.” Joy flows from worship! If we’re genuine God worshippers, we won’t be able to hide it! It’ll show on our faces! Grumpy Christians just aren’t worshipping God as they should! So, worship God! It’ll change your life! It’ll change everything!

 

Worship God Rightly!

-Not All Worship Is Truly Worship!

It’s been my experience that many, who claim to be followers of Jesus, do not worship God rightly! I’ve found many who claim to be worshipers; but, their worship fails to resemble what God commands worship to look like in Scripture.  A great example, of Biblical worship, can be found in King David’s Holy Spirit inspired message, to Israel, about proper worship. Just open your Bibles, to 1 Chronicles 16; and, you’ll see what I mean.

-Worship God With Offerings!

Among other things, David commands the congregation to worship God with their “offerings”—“…ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” (v.29). Don’t come to worship God empty-handed! Remember that we are “stewards” and “managers” of God’s stuff, not OWNERS! God owns ALL of our stuff! We’ve been given the responsibility to manage a portion of “God’s ESTATE.” God is the owner of it all! And, worship has always included an offering!

-Worship God For His Creation!

David also led Israel to worship God for His creation—“…the world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord is King!’ Let the sea and everything in it resound; let the fields and all that is in them exult. Then the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth”(v.30-33).  ALL of creation—the HEAVENS, the EARTH, the SEA & everything in it; the FIELDS and all that is in it; the TREES of the forest—ALL worship Yahweh, David says! At Jesus’ triumphal entry, into Jerusalem, when the Pharisees told Him to rebuke His disciples for giving Him honor as Messiah, Jesus told them that “…if they kept silent, the very ROCKS would cry out…”  We are called to worship God for the wonder of His creation AND for the wonder that all creation worships Him!

-Worship God Now!

And, then, David instructs Israel to worship God NOW because they’ll be worshiping God for all eternity—“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. And say: “Save us, God of our salvation; gather us and rescue us from the nations so that we may give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise. May Yahweh, the God of Israel, be praised from everlasting to everlasting” (v.34). We don’t know a lot about heaven; but, worship will be part of it!

-Worship Beyond Imagination!

It’s a clear sign that a believer hasn’t spent a lot of time in prayer & the Word—seeking after God—when they express fear that an eternity in heaven may get boring!  After a BILLION years, we’ll still not know our God completely! But, I’m certain I will find Him more fascinating than all the Super Bowls & Star Trek reruns I’ve ever watched! As David finished his sermon, the text says that all the people said “Amen” and “Praise The Lord” (v.36).  And, there was great joy as God dwelt with His people. The disciples also had great joy as God, the Messiah, dwelt with them during his 3 1/2 year ministry leading up to the cross. And, in heaven, Revelation reveals that “God will dwell among us”; and, forever we’ll worship Him!

 

True Generosity Serves Others!

-It’s Not Just About Money!

We typically think of “generosity” in financial terms, don’t we? But, in God’s economy, generosity is shown in more than financial ways! In the book of Proverbs, the Spirit of God inspired King Solomon to include these words:  “A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water” Proverbs 11:25.  God intends for us to understand generosity as being about more than our finances! It’s not just about our money! According to this Proverb, God also measures generosity in the ways we serve others. He measures generosity by our willingness to minister & help others.

-Don’t Throw Money At It!

In the world, there’s a tendency to just throw money at a need. Rather than getting their hands dirty, the person who has the financial means would rather gift someone or an organization. Unfortunately, that same attitude can often be found in the church too! Many would rather “gift” it than get dirty through service or ministry to others! But, that’s NOT God’s economy! The Message paraphrases Proverbs 11:25 like this:  “The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.” God measures our generosity by our willingness to serve & by our willingness to enrich the lives of others by ministering to them. By offering something, Solomon says, as simple as a glass of water.

-It’s Being “Others Focused”!

It’s that same principle, that Jesus taught,  of being “others focused.” Unfortunately, it’s typical, in our American church culture, to look for a church that serves “me”! To look for a church that serves “my kids”! That’s the mindset of a “consumer,” isn’t it? And, it’s a way of thinking that is foreign to Scripture & to the church, in other parts of the world, where they look for a place with needs so they can serve! Faith’s way of serving is to look for needs and meet them! Faith’s way of serving actually prays that God’s Spirit will open eyes to those needs & open hearts to actually meet them! As with your finances, don’t “calculate’ how God might move others to serve you if you serve them! That’s serving out of GREED! And, just like God will not bless a greedy giver financially, He’ll not bless a greedy server either! He gave to us in love & we must give the same!

-Serve Recklessly!

The principle, in Scripture, is kind of like this—just serve & minister to the needs of others with reckless abandon! By faith, believe that God will keep His Word! Believe that, whether it’s by sacrificial giving or service, that God is going to reward you.  You might be rewarded in this life! Or, your reward might be received in heaven! At the same time, though we know the reward is coming, don’t give to get!  Just be generous, in faith, that God will take care of you! When we give, from a generous heart, it truly costs you nothing! You lose nothing in the exchange! You gain! You get richer the more you give! It’s counter cultural! Jesus said: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life BECAUSE OF ME will FIND IT