I am troubled by a great many things.
Help me to focus on You more than on my mission;
On the Shepherd more than on the sheep –
not in order to neglect them, but to feed them better.
Help me to take Your yoke upon me, for these burdens that I carry are rightfully yours.
Tag Archives: Prayer
Jesus my true King,
Strike down these gods within me,
Holy Spirit come,
Flood Your Church with new power,
Revive us again.
You the rightful head,
We have decapitated,
Forgive us O Lord.
Plans most practical,
Wisdom gleamed from business world,
Speak Your voice instead!
We busy ourselves,
Distracted by life’s good things,
Remind us what’s best.
This last one is not explicitly a prayer, but what my vision (and prayer for) is for enCompass church, turned into a haiku if I could. Doesn’t quite work:
Know, obey, reach out, welcome,
To be a church that passionately prays (Col. 4:2), knows and obeys the Bible (Rom. 6:17), reaches out into the community with evangelism (Matt. 28:18-20) and good works (Jer. 29:5-7; Eph. 2:10), and welcomes all people well (Rom. 15:7).
Passionately prays, knows and obeys, reaches out, and welcomes well.
“Pray without ceasing” the Apostle Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
Upon reading this, our first thoughts are questions: Is that even possible? How could I do anything else if I was to obey this? I can’t even pray 30 minutes (or maybe even 5) in one sitting, so how could I possibly pray ‘without ceasing’?
Several saints have attempted to solve how to do this throughout history. The unknown Russian pilgrim, in “The Way of a Pilgrim,” goes on a quest to discover the secret of doing this, and he’s taught to pray the Jesus Prayer by the holy men he finds along the way. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He’s taught that he needs to continually repeat this with every breath until he can do it mentally, in the background of his mind as it were, and then he’d be obeying the apostle’s command.
The medieval monk Brother Lawrence sought to obey this command by continually, consciously seek God’s assistance in every task; he worked in the monastery’s kitchen and as I recall he would ask God for help with even the most mundane of tasks. He would ask God to help him flip over a pancake in the pan, and then after he had done so would thank God for His help. Brother Lawrence sought to keep God always close to his mind, and worship, thanksgiving, or prayers for help were often on his mind. His letters and a short biography are collected in the work called “The Practice of the Presence of God.”
Frank Laubach, a much more modern Christian inspired by Brother Lawrence, sought to learn to pray without ceasing. He was a missionary to the Philippines, and devised what he called “The_Game_with_Minutes” Not so much a game as it was a challenge, he sought to see how many minutes out of each hour how many times he could remember God once per minute (that is, at least one second out of every 60 seconds). While not easy, with intentionality and practice he found it was possible, and in fact everything else in his life became easy because of this striving to keep God at the center of his life, minute-by-minute surrendered to Him.
Conversation with God
While praying requires times of structure and devoted attention (Matt. 6:9-13), and corporate prayer is extremely important (Acts 1:14), we can learn to keep God at the forefront of our thoughts if we continually engage Him in conversation. God loves us, and He cares intimately about every aspect of our lives, even the most mundane parts of it; so we can talk to Him about every part of our lives. He delights to hear us, just as a parent delights to hear their infant babble or their adult children talk to them. More than that, as lovers long to be with each other and talk with each other and learn about each other, so God longs for us to be with Him, to talk with Him, and to learn about Him.I think what gets at the heart of praying without ceasing is learning to live in complete and utter dependence on God for every moment of our lives. It includes rejoicing (1 Thess. 5:16) and giving thanks for His help and presence and gifts and love (1 Thess. 5:17), but a life that’s surrendered to God and obedient to His will is what’s most pleasing to God. And being a continual state of prayer – conscious talking with Him, and subconscious awareness of His presence, helps us to be dependent on Him.
While it is difficult, I’m training myself to pray like this. So for example, when showering I talk to Him about my day or about the burdens on my heart. While driving I try to remember to talk to Him about the people I see driving or walking around me. When I meet with people I’m praying for God to show me what He’s doing in their lives as we chat together. And I find myself needing to constantly remind myself to do it, to pray, and to open my heart in love to God’s presence. And since I’m still working at it, there’s no need to get down on myself when I forget. I just remind myself, and go back to God in my thoughts and heart. And He is patient and will wait when I forget.
Almost a constant refrain of my conscious prayer is a cry for wisdom – “God, I need your wisdom.” Often it’s not even for a specific situation, but just in general. And while I’m far from good at praying continually yet, I get short tastes of the presence of God when I do, and I get glimpses of how He guides me, and I get snippets of wisdom that is beyond my ability (or even my realization, until after the fact), so it’s a worthwhile pursuit. Many – but far too few – Christians have already known this.
What keeps us from praying?
- Time – we lead such busy lives.
While true to an extent, this is often an excuse more than anything, since we always have some time – whether in the shower, or while driving, or instead of watching TV or surfing the net or reading a book. The fact of the matter is, we don’t prioritize it, or intentionally make time for it; and if we don’t make time, time slips away.
- Unbelief – we don’t really believe prayer makes a difference.
This is the true reason we don’t make time for prayer. If we believed in its efficacy, we would prioritize it. Maybe we’ve prayed and haven’t seen those prayers answered (at least, in the way we wanted them to be). Maybe we don’t experience God’s presence and so we functionally live as if He doesn’t exist. Or maybe we’ve gone through tragedy, or been hurt (even by the church), and we didn’t see God do anything in those situations so why would He now?
Our prayer shouldn’t be dependent on our experience of God or our experience of His answering our prayers or not, rather it should be motivated by love for Him and founded in the security of His love for us. When we understand, I mean really get deep down, how He loves us then we’ll trust in Him despite what does or doesn’t happen to us, and we will be one of the more free than people can understand.
- Fear – we’re afraid of surrendering our wills to God, and afraid of Him actually showing up!
The sin that entered Adam and Eve’s hearts afflicts us still – the desire for control, and to be the masters of our own fates. To give that up without guarantee of safety or comfort is scary. But surrendering our lives to God is the best decision we can make; not having experienced that though, or seen many people who have, it’s hard for us to believe. So we pray little or not at all in hopes of clinging to the little power we actually have. But surrendering to God brings a freedom from fear, because surrendering to God allows us to know His great love for us, and ‘perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18).
So, will you join me in making prayer a priority in your life? Will you seek to engage God in constant, conversational prayer in surrender to His will? It sounds impossible, but it isn’t. It sounds difficult, and it is – but it’s more than worth it.
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will concerning you.
As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.” “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.” Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!” Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this“ John 1:47-50.
Jesus saw into Nathaniel’s heart, then when Nathaniel was awed by that Jesus promised he would see even greater things than that.
God already knows everything about us, including what’s in our hearts: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight…” (Heb. 4:13), and “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Yet like Adam and Eve, we try to hide from God anyway. It’s too uncomfortable to allow God to see everything about us. It’s too exposed.
But if we do, if we willingly be transparent before Him, what great things our eyes will be opened too – we will see Jesus as Lord like never before, and we will see what He is doing in the events and people around us more and more too.
We’ll better see what He’s doing within our own hearts, too, and He will continually reveal more and more darkness that He wants us to bring to the Light for healing, and forgiveness, and freedom.
We’ll see with new eyes, beyond the physical realm and into the spiritual world beneath the surface of things.
But since our inclination is to hide instead, how do we do it? How do we open ourselves up to God? “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). That means submitting to His commands and seeking Him through prayer, scripture, and the community of believers, the local church.
When we do, we will be more effective agents for His kingdom and glory regardless of our occupations or vocations.
“Jesus, I want to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Raise my spiritual temperature, and use me to raise it at enCompass, too. I know that I can’t do it, though – do it, Merciful Lord, through me or even despite me for that matter if need be. Amen.”
In the Gospel of Mark there’s the well-known story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat during a raging storm.
But Jesus isn’t just in the boat, he’s actually sleeping. During a raging storm. The disciples of course are freaking out and, rightfully, fearing for their lives (the boat is already swamping). They finally wake up Jesus and cry “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to die!?!” Jesus rebukes the storm and it calms away, then rebukes the disciples, asking “Why are you afraid? Where’s your faith?” The disciples are amazed at Jesus’ power, that even the terrible weather obeys him.
Reading that story, it’s easy to be hard on the disciples. “Of course they didn’t have to fear, Jesus is all-powerful,” we think. “He can’t die there anyway.” But I wonder if the disciples would have been any less afraid had they known that? Jesus was sleeping – it didn’t look like he cared or was doing anything to help them, while the wind and rain and waves were raging all around them.
How different are we from the disciples in this situation? When the storms of life batter us, do we wonder if Jesus cares or if he’s doing anything? Or worse, do we forget that he’s even there with us? Or do we trust that he will see us through them?
The more we know (head) and know (heart) that Jesus is all-powerful and present with us, the more we see him moving in and through and around our lives, then the more we will instinctively trust him. In any case, the disciples made the right call on what to do in that situation, and so should we in ours – call on Jesus to save us.
Just as Jesus is master over the stormy weather, he is master over the storms in our lives as well. He is with us, and though it may not look like he’s doing anything we can trust that he will see us through now, just as he did the disciples back then.
When was the last time you prayed for someone in their presence? Maybe it was at a church service or prayer meeting, or a small group. Maybe it was at home with your spouse or children.
This past Sunday my church prayed for one of our members going into surgery this week. He came and sat in a chair at the front of the church, and the deacons gathered around him and laid their hands on him and prayed. It was beautiful, and it was the first time our church had ever done anything like that. I hope it’s not the last.
When was the last time you prayed with someone at a social get-together?
Sounds weird, right? And definitely awkward. But I wonder why, as Christians, we don’t that often? We seem to have a pretty clear separation between “spiritual” times and other times, like dinners or coffees, or work, or sporting events.
But if, as Paul says, we are members of one body and need each other (1 Cor. 12:12-27), and if we’re to build one another up and encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), wouldn’t it make sense to pray with each other more often than we do?
This is a result of our individualistic & materialistic (separating the spiritual from the rest of life) culture, though certainly there are always exceptions to be found (I think about my time in charismatic churches, where it seemed a lot more common to pray for each other any time. That’s one of the things I miss from that stream of Christianity).
The truth is, though, that I need prayer. And so do you, if you’re honest with yourself.
So my wife and I have determined to pray for people when we get together socially. Sometimes I forget if the conversation is really good, or my wife will remind me, but before they or we leave, I’ll ask “how can we pray for you?” and then right there we will pray. It’s not a super-religious moment, and we don’t do it to look good in front of our friends, but we do it because we care about them. It’s a simple yet powerful way we can “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Also, Jesus has been with us the whole time we were hanging out or doing whatever anyway, and he also wants to be included.
I encourage you to try it. It won’t feel natural at first and that’s okay. But when we pray with & for each other, more and more we become a people that is characterized by our love for one another (John 13:34-35).