the need for self-discipline in prayer

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.

1 Peter 4:7

A life of prayer doesn’t just fall out of the sky nor is it automatic just because we’ve had faith for many years. It requires discipline on our part. We have to discipline ourselves to do it, to keep doing it, to make it an ongoing practice in our lives day after day.

We do so in light of the reality and anticipation that the end of all things along with Jesus’s revealing is close, and at the very least that this order of things is temporary and for us in our experience, life is short. We can see throughout Scripture that prayer is either something which is practiced, or isn’t, depending on whether one has a genuine, living faith in God. But we also find a difference between those who excel in such praying and those who don’t. That is why Peter here calls us to seriousness and discipline. Only then will we give prayer the important place it deserves which will make the needed difference as God helps us in all of our weakness to continue on in prayer, finding God’s answer for ourselves and for others. In and through Jesus.

a life of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2

There is nothing more important that we can actually do other than pray. I would put being in Scripture, in the fellowship of God’s people, and in prayer together. All three are vitally important for us in our following of Christ.

As I consider entering into the latter phase of my life, it may seem and does, that certain possibilities that I used to be interested in are now past. What can I keep doing day after day, while attending to what responsibilities and opportunities remain? Prayer, prayer, and more prayer. Filling my days and nights with prayer. That is an imaginative aspiration.

A kind of dream of mine would be to be a part of an Anabaptist monastic order in which prayers, liturgy, and good works dot and punctuate the days and nights. Such a thing probably doesn’t exist, although there does seem to be some expression of that in such circles.

This has to become something that one just keeps doing regardless of what one is experiencing. And it also can be more of a life and reality in which we live and experience. Both. But one has to keep doing it. Probably something akin to what Jesus did and experienced. As followers of Jesus, by the Spirit we can surely begin to realize some measure of the same.

I am responsible to practice this myself, but also to do so together with others in what is called corporate prayer. We join minds and hearts together in prayer through the Spirit and God’s word.

Above anything else, this is what I wish to practice and where I want to live the rest of the time I have in this life. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

waiting on God

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted,
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

If there’s something we don’t want to do in this day and age, it’s wait. Everything is at our fingertips, and either things are immediate, or very soon. That’s the day and age we live in. But the things of God are different. It takes time. Circumstances like what Israel of old was facing are a blessing in disguise if they help us turn our attention to God.

Surely we have to wait for a number of reasons. God’s timing and ours is different. And a big part of God’s answer is to change us. And that rarely happens in a moment, in fact by in large we’re always in process. God might address the circumstances in some favorable way, but God will help us through whatever we face.

I take comfort in all of this. God will help and give us the strength not only to carry on but do well. In and through Jesus.

 

the testing will come

Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tested by the devil.

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-2a, 13

Although in comparison to Christ, ours is small potatoes; like him as we follow in the way that he set, that he is for us, we can be sure that testing will come, challenging every advance we’ve seemingly made, even everything we’ve received from God through Christ.

Like Jesus we need to be those who are in Scripture (in his case, well versed) and remain in prayer. God will help us through every single testing as we do that. Unlike Jesus we will stumble at least in moments of time. But like Jesus and through him we can resist. God will give us the answer we need through Scripture and prayer. It’s not up to us to come up with the answer, we must receive our needed help from God. If we persevere through the testing God will inevitably always come through. It’s up to us to continue following in this, long as it may seem to be.

Part of life now in God through Christ by the Spirit living in this world. In and through Jesus.

7

pray on

pray without ceasing…for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:17, 18b

To be told to pray without ceasing seems pretty unrealistic. To be sure, we can’t be praying every moment of the day. Maybe the idea is that along with actual praying, we’re in an attitude of prayer all of our waking hours. Or that it is to be a habit of life that fills our days. For me, I take it to mean that I’m to be much in prayer which includes not only talking to God, but listening and seeking to hear God’s voice, and discern God’s will in it all.

This is addressed to Christians together, so there needs to be an emphasis on corporate prayer, that we’re all in this together. But that includes individual practice, that each of us are involved in playing our part.

I find that two practices are vital for me: being in Scripture with an emphasis on application and personal growth and being in prayer. I honestly think a missing link, all too true in my own life is that insofar as this is possible, we need to be joined together in this.

In my own experience I find that the attitude and practice of ongoing, persevering prayer is so important to keep my head afloat, out of the deep waters in which I lack the breath, light, the perspective and life of God. It is almost like the necessity of applying a magnet so that another piece of metal doesn’t fall to the ground.

The only way I seem to be able to really stay grounded and centered on God and on God’s will is to remain in Scripture, but with persistent, ongoing prayer. When I let up on that, it’s not long before I’ve lost focus and perspective. And what comes out of that is not good. We’re not in a Sunday School picnic. At the same time what also needs to be remembered is that much good comes out of this practice. Not only to help center us, but in actual benefit for others.

As we’re told in the Scripture passage quoted above, part of God’s will for us. In and through Jesus.

what does love look like?

…the fruit of the Spirit is love…

Galatians 5:22

Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:14

For the follower and followers of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit is love. The special love of God in and through Jesus is given to us by the Spirit. That’s all good, but it has to be worked out where we live. And there’s something else key to keep in mind here.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

Maybe a good question we can ask ourselves is something like this: What does love look like in this situation? Really in anything at all. What does love look like?

It doesn’t matter what other good we’re doing. It’s actually not good if love doesn’t accompany it, yes, if it’s not motivated by love (1 Corinthians 13). Love has to be down to earth. Love in the heart will work it’s way out. But often we don’t feel that love. But the Spirit of God in us followers of Christ will help us begin to know what to do, and just as important, what not to do.

Of course we’ll stumble along the way. We’ll catch ourselves falling back into our old ways, but hopefully before we violate love.

It’s good to keep in mind what the Biblical vision of active love is: To help the poor and the stranger, to care for the widow and the orphan. And in Jesus’s teaching it includes loving even our enemies. And loving each other.

I have to ask myself, is what I’m about to do an act of love or not? If I have any doubts at all, I shouldn’t do it. And the difficult matters that we have to deal with maybe have to be dealt in entirely different ways than we’ve done it in the past right up to the present times. Maybe we’re going to have to lean on God to help us find creative ways to deal with such problems in a way that at least is a sincere attempt to do it in love.

The love we’re talking about here is not the idea of “anything goes.” It’s instead God’s love that is for the true and highest good of all. It is love through and through. Regardless, whatever else people may think, if they consider our actions or words something other than love, than for the most part we’re going to have to stop dead in our tracks, take it all back, apologize, and start over. It’s better to be still and pray.

Love is active. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Love must show up into the lives of others. Yes, in the hardest places where we don’t want to go, where our own thoughts and attitudes contradict this. Love must win there. The love that ultimately does win out for us all. In and through Jesus.

expect a fight

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20

There’s no question about it, followers of Christ will be in a fight to the finish. Paul or whoever wrote Ephesians as a Pauline book tells us that we’re in a struggle: “…our struggle…” And that it’s not against humans. In other words, we’d better see it on an entirely other level. Yes, humans are involved, no doubt, although not always. Any way the spiritual enemy can trip us up, it will.

It is not fun being in conflict. We would like to simply bask in God’s love and peace. And the Lord wants us to know that special rest to which he invites us, into his yoke to learn from him. But part of that learning when we look at his life and what follows in Acts and the letters, not to mention what preceded it in the Hebrew Bible, often in physical terms, but even then, with spiritual entities as the primary movers, the fact is that we need to become battle hardened and battle ready, remembering that God’s people have always lived in a story which involved a spiritual conflict.

Again, I personally get tired of it. And a lot of it relates to my propensity toward anxiety and regret. “If only,” etc., etc., etc. The enemy assigned to me knows just what buttons to push. What it does with you might be entirely different, and of course each of us is unique in our experience and makeup.

We’re told in this passage, considered the classic spiritual warfare passage that we’re to be strong in the Lord, to put on and take up what God provides for the battle, and to stand firm in that. And to pray, pray, and pray some more for all God’s people. In all of this there can be no let up. Though thankfully as we’re told in Psalm 23, there are times when our Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures, leads us beside still waters, and restores our soul. But we can be sure that the battle is not over. And it’s during those times in my experience that I feel somehow that the worst is past.

For myself, and maybe this is going beyond what Scripture is telling us, but I think not: Whenever attacked, I want to progress. I want to get some good out of even my own mistakes, as well as whatever latest trick and deceit the enemy is pulling on me. To somehow go deeper and deeper into Christ, Christ’s sufferings, rather than try to manage it on my own. I have so much to learn in all of this. But I’m trying to be open and learn all I can in the midst and maelstrom of life. In and through Jesus.

Christlikeness: turning over the tables and driving out the money changers (consider with caution)

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’
but you are making it a den of robbers.”

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.

Matthew 21:12-14

There seems to be an understanding of Christ as the one who was meek and mild, and always nice. And that if we’re to be like Christ we’ll also always be nice. We should always love everyone including our enemies. But what does love look like at times?

At the very least, sometimes we need to say the hard things. This may not be true of most of us, although all of us on some scale will need to do this even if the truth spoken is only with reference to ourselves. Jesus did and said the hard things in “the cleansing of the Temple.”

We are not Jesus so that if we ever depart from the general way of Christ-like love: humility and gentleness with a deference to all, then we’d better do so with much caution. Our default should always be to have a love which accepts all just as they are, but sometimes we have to challenge the systems, authorities and powers. Even attempt to throw a wrench in them to stop the works.

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It’s my own opinion that Christ is not that much present among those gathered in his name who are really not that much about Christ’s business. Usually taking in more of a personal application of Scripture which is often good to that point but stops there. We as followers of Christ have to be willing to take the hard stand at times, to do and say the difficult thing. Although again for most of us, we simply live in a way that is counter-cultural, in contrast to all the wrong, and leave the direct confrontation to those gifted or set apart for that.

We have to think through this with the utmost caution. For some, including myself, there’s a strong inclination and temptation to see confrontation as a default. If something is broke, we want to fix it. If it’s wrong, we want to call it out in no uncertain terms. It’s better for people like myself to stop in our tracks and pray. And pray some more with others and give it time. But after that it might be good for us to gently yet firmly step in and speak the truth.

Just something to consider.

tend to where it hurts

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

James 5:13-16

I’ve been struggling with a painful foot recently, the first time ever for me, and since I’m on my feet all day on my job, it’s a pain and a trial. Finally, when it was starting to become more than I was willing to bear, I had my wife pick me up a heel support. That did help much and hopefully will give my foot more of a chance to heal.

That analogy we can carry over to our lives in any way we can think of, and not only to ourselves of course, but also to others who for one reason or another are hurting, in difficulty, or at some stage in their lives in which they can use our help even if it’s nothing except prayer and friendship on our part.

Pain is a blessing, just as Philip Yancey with Paul Brand pointed out in books in times past. Without those nerve endings to tell us that something is wrong, we would proceed normally and often wreak havoc to some physical member. When we’re suffering or feeling up against it, that can help us find the help that we need. In God and through the help of others. We need each other in this, and we need God in everything. God is present to give us all the help we need for ourselves and through us to each other. In and through Jesus.

hold that thought

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6; NRSVue

In pop western culture we want answers, and we want them now. No ambiguity, no having to sort through things; we want the quick fix or the right answer right away. There’s a place for that in some things for temporary or relatively trivial matters. But for the big questions and trying to figure out what to do in the rough and tumble, the tussles, in real life, that’s completely something else.

So much is involved in this. We’re processing through our own thoughts as we seek God’s help. And much of what we’re thinking through has truth in it. But we can’t stop. We have to keep going, to keep asking questions, to look into good Bible commentaries and good study Bibles.

We always need to error on the side of mercy, grace and kindness, trying to cut others slack, remembering our own faults in the past and present, with the willingness, indeed set disposition to forgive. We keep asking questions, we keep praying for ourselves, for others, for the situation at hand.

And we have the promise stated above that God will see us through as we seek to get God’s help, no less. In and through Jesus.