Friday, October 28, 2005

2. presumption or dependence?

"He who seeks to burn out for God will have to go deeper than sentence prayers and occasional wishful thinking."--Vance Havner

As I post this blog, my mind is filled with inadequate illustrations that have bubbled to the surface--I can't seem to find the way to say what is on my mind and heart. The irony of this is this very experience begins to describe what I want to express here--just add in the concept of the "contempt of familiarity" and you have it! I know, you must think I've lost it, so read on . . . or don't. It's my blog and I can cogitate if I want to.

It has been suggested that Isaiah's response to God ("Woe is me! For I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of Hosts." Is 6:5) is a model of reverence when face-to-face with God. I have to disagree. I think Isaiah's response is much closer to watching a person come within a hair's breadth of total devastation and live to tell about it. I think a better model for reverence is seen after God provides cleansing for Isaiah through the inferred offering and the coals and asks, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" to which Isaiah responds, "Here am I; send me!" I am inclined to believe that a "trait of reverence" is very much related to the attitude of gratitude.

Reverence is to be fearful, not familiar. Familiarity forgets grace and mercy. While it is true the OT saints enjoyed access to God, they were also to remember how that access came with a price. One did not simply burst into God's presence. Isaiah found that out when God's presence burst in on him.

Here is a good point for discussion: Should we really be so excited to start a prayer with "daddy..." if we have not reflected on what was done to make the conversation possible? I see like this: I tell my kids that when they want to talk to me, they had better look and listen to see if I am either in the middle of doing something, or if I am already talking to someone else. I will gladly stop what I am doing, or (if I am alady in mid-conversation, they may wait quietly until I am ready. The illustration may be weak, but the principle is close--one does not simply barge into the open throne room of heaven. God is not a man and all He has done in making Himself accessible is worth our review. Another way to look at it could be like this: do we presume on or depend on His grace?

Praise? Yes!
Gratitude? Yes!
Patient obedience? Yes!
Confession? Yes!
Unselishness? Yes! Prayer is about Christ.

Any Jew knows that there is a unity that describe who he or she is within national identity, and the same unity makes that description within the context of God's activity. Most of us today do not have the same solidarity--sure we are "American," but we also let that title give us liscense to use our freedoms against each other so we can be individuals--American individuals, that is. We are selfish and this is an element that greatly affects our praying.

Not too long ago, I was candidating for a church. In the interview I asked the committee what activity or ministry would accurately describe their church, to which they replied, "we are a praying church." I asked them to tell me areas they felt they could use more training, to which one very sincere man replied, "evangelism." But imagine my surprise when I learned their only involvement with missions was "prayer" and that they would support missionary work as long as it did not follow the pastor home. See, they have a problem with people--"help us grow, but make sure they are 'our kind'".

One of the most significant lessons I have learned about prayer came through a preaching class I had in college. Mr. Murphree said something like this, "when as a pulpiteer you lead a congregation in prayer, eliminate from your vocabulary words such as, 'I', 'we', 'us'--because you are not talking to yourself or to your congregation. Use words like, 'You' as you are bringing your people to God."

Interestingly, these have been the most difficult prayers to pray because they are humiliating and require perseverance.

I need words
As wide as sky
I need a language large as
This longing inside
And I need a voice
Bigger than mine
And I need a song to sing you
That I've yet to find
I need you, oh
I need you
I need you, oh
I need you
To be here now
To be here now
To hear me now
To hear me now
(David Crowder Band)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

1. musical prayers

"The Lord takes our prayers not by number, but by weight."--John Preston (1587 - 1628).

One major difference between the animist (or pagan) and the Christian is seen in the practice of prayer. The one prays out of fear, because of imbalances of impersonal powers, impurities or weaknesses, seeking that someone else (a "professional" of sorts) intercede on his behalf. The other prays out of delight, because of weakness, dependency and because the way is open to the other person (God) who is hearing. "You shall not fear the terror by night; nor because of the arrow that flies by day;" (Ps 91:5)

David wrote, "To You who hears prayer, all flesh comes." (Ps. 65:2) and "The LORD is near all those who call on Him, all those who call on Him in truth." (Ps. 145:18). Remember that one scene in "Bruce Almighty" when Jim Carrey realizes there is more to being "God" than simply having "powers?" Suddenly his mind and ears are awash with a cacophony of sound--uncounted millions of voices whispering, talking, shouting simultaneously! Then he developes that goofy computer program to handle prayers . . .

I love that scene because it helps me to see that on one hand, people think they are God and fail to pray--and if they could be for even a moment, could not bear the responsibility of hearing alone; on the other hand, it helps me understand that though God must hear to our ears what must sound cacophonous, He hears symphonic solo. Much like the orchestra playing the rythmic strains and melodious refrains, melody and harmony flowing, pausing, rising and falling, around and around--then a single instrument wavers, hums then sings--a few beats, measures, phrases--entire movements!

Things "new to me" (or, "things I knew then forgot, so they seem like new to me"):

1. God wants to hear prayer. He does not need "alone-time", or peace and quiet the same way I do.

2. Praying without ceasing (2 Thess. 5:17) keeps me from praying out of desperation (in the same way that regular breathing keeps me from gasping).

If prayer is the hammer that breaks the glass "in case of emergencies", then God is in a box. In ongoing conversation, prayer reduces "emergencies" to an afterthought.

We are invited to pray and God has promised to hear. Great things happen because of prayer. We are commanded to pray by the One who loves us, and reminded that we show Him our love by keeping His commandments. We can "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb 4:16). Yet, believing all of that, many of us pray so little! That is most amazing of all!

Friday, October 21, 2005

8. Closet Ethics

Ro 8:26-27 "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”[1]

I've spent the last few days meditating on what this verse says about prayer and I am discovering the more I think about it, the more I appreciate what it says. Understanding this verse follows the fact that Jesus understands what life is like, therefore the Holy Spirit understands and because He understands what life is like, the Spirit knows exactly how to pray. Knowing the Holy Spirit is sent alongside to help (John 14:16) gives great comfort knowing that He is not operating out of omniscient divinity alone, but as one who was fully man-He knows how to help our infirmities! This makes the Lord's Prayer of John 17 much more meaningful-He was doing for the disciples the very thing Ro 8:26 says! Whether we are in suffering, or in hope, He intercedes.

“We would be at an eternal loss if the Holy Spirit did not intercede for us. He understands our sinful frailties and knows that, by our own wisdom, we don’t know how to pray properly for ourselves or how to consistently maintain our walk with the Lord.” [2]

Have you ever been around someone who talks much without saying much? Or perhaps he simply proves over the course of time that he does not know what he is talking about at all? When I read the following verses I am made to realize that perhaps even in prayer, the Holy Spirit keeps us from making fools of ourselves (Mercy!) when we pray about things we really don't understand. “Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” (John 20:20-23) [3]

Think of it. Going to Jesus and saying something to which he responds, “you do not know what you are asking.” [insert “wince” here]. I would hate to think of the times I've prayed in arrogance and the Holy Spirit stepped alongside to help me out in ways I could never imagine (grace!). Paul has been inspired to write what, in effect, we now hear twice from Jesus: we don’t know how to pray. We don’t know how to ask for the things we don’t know what to ask for. The Holy Spirit makes talking to God possible. The implication is that we don’t know what prayer is—we don’t fully understand how to use it. It is the Holy Spirit HIMSELF who urges us to pray, who guides our prayer, makes prayer possible, regulates and purifies our requests, “as the interpreter of the mind of God. Thus, the Holy Spirit is the arbiter, director, and interpreter of all our wishes.”[4]

Consider too: “Although the intercessory work of Christ, the great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, is well known to most (Heb 7:17, 25), we sometimes forget that the Holy Spirit also pleads our case. In our perplexity about what we ought to pray for, the Spirit joins us in prayer and intercedes on our behalf with a level of fervor that far surpasses our own. We are strengthened in our suffering by realizing that not only does the Spirit pray for us but that God understands his prayers completely and can answer them because they are always in accordance with his will (Rom 8:27). Our second source of help is the realization that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (8:28).”[5]

But what does He say? What words does He use? There has been a progression of this “groaning” idea through this chapter in Romans, from a general or collective groan based on a shared experience (“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” [6]) down to a more individualized sigh or murmur (“And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” [7]) to this very specific sigh or groaning on behalf of someone else (“the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”).

“Those “groanings” refer to divine communications between the Father and the Spirit that transcend any human language. They are more like sighs that can’t be put into words. That means we can’t know precisely what the Holy Spirit says when he intercedes on our behalf, but we can be certain that He is praying for us. The Spirit’s lofty ministry of intercession reminds us again of how utterly dependent we are on Him to support us and help us with our daily discipleship. “ [8]

Whatever He says, it does not make us break out in speech of any known or unknown kind, but there is a definite communication clearly understood only by God. The things He says are Christ-interceded and in-His-Will-accorded to the praise of His glory.

I think we get a glimpse of what this looks like when reading over Dr. Wilbur Chapman's shoulder in a letter he wrote to a friend: “I received a note saying that an American missionary was going to pray for God’s blessing down on our work. He was known as Praying Hyde. Almost instantly the tide turned. The hall became packed, and at my first invitation fifty men accepted Christ as their Saviour [sic]. As we were leaving I said, “Mr. Hyde, I want you to pray for me.” He came to my room, turned the key in the door, and dropped on his knees, and waited five minutes without a single syllable coming from his lips. I could hear my own heart thumping, and his beating. I felt hot tears running down my face. I knew I was with God. Then, with upturned face, down while the tears were streaming, he said, “O God.” Then for five minutes at least he was still again; and then, when he knew that he was talking with God there came from the depths of his heart such petitions for me as I had never heard before. I rose from my knees to know what real prayer was. We believe that prayer is mighty and we believe it as we never did before.” [9]

Of all things, I am sure that those words groaned are closely tied to His Word. The Bible is what keeps us on the same page-conforming our minds and hearts and lives to His mind, heart and puts us in the position to be lived through. We are on the same terms with Him when we read and wrap our lives around His Word.

By His deep intercession the Holy Spirit fills lacking faith, strengthens weakness, rebuilds trust, redirects desire, stokes fervency, restores opportunity, builds character, changes conduct, convicts disobedience, supports vigilance, interprets and applies God’s Word and edifies the whole house of God.

The Holy Spirit gives us the person of prayer (the Father), place of prayer (heaven), the purpose of prayer (hallowing His name in heaven as on earth), the power of prayer (the Kingdom in the already/not yet on the earth as in heaven), the meaning of prayer (His Will be done on earth as in heaven), the prohibitions of prayer (satisfaction with Him as the source, and what we need to interact with one another), the prescription of prayer (guidance and protection).

Prayer is the conversation of godliness, the measurement of emptiness, the standard of holiness, the attitude of worship, the discipline of discipleship, the unity of fellowship, the bond of brotherhood; the direction of the feet, the extension of the hands, the beat of the heart, the thought of the mind.

Prayer is the sign of repentance, the fuel for the journey, the breath of the soul, the incense at the altar.

Prayer is the question of the Christian, the practice of Great-heart, the consultation of Watchful, the armor of Charity, the request of Valiant, the song of Mercy, the Demolition of Doubting Castle, the killer of Giant Despair; the watchdog against sin, the fireman against lust, the finder of the lost; the bowl of the hungry, the cloth of the poor, light in the darkness.

Prayer asks, never tells; waits, never presumes; seeks, always finds.

Prayer is the right of the faithful, order against tyranny, freedom against anarchy, the ethic of the closet.

1 New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 . The Lockman Foundation: LaHabra, CA
2 MacArthur, J. 1998, c1997. Strength for Today. Includes indexes. (electronic ed.) . Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL
3 NASB, ibid.
4 Elwell, W. A., & Elwell, W. A. 1997, c1996. Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed.). Baker reference library; Logos Library System. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids
5 Mounce, R. H. 2001, c1995. Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary . Broadman & Holman Publishers: Nashville
6 Ro 8:22, NASB, ibid.
7 Ro 8:23, NASB, ibid.
8 MacArthur, ibid.
9 Tan, P. L. 1996, c1979. Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : [a treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers]. Bible Communications: Garland TX

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

7. Parables on Prayer

Luke 11:5-10 and 18:1-8

Jesus uses these two parables to teach about persistence in prayer. What stands out is how Jesus creates his pictures using descriptions of people very much unlike God! First, the friend who disturbs the midnight slumber of another for a loaf of bread--and he gets it because of persistence, not because of the friendship. Second, the unrighteous (!) judge who grants the requests of a lady because she would wear him out with asking.

If relunctant friends or unrighteous judges honor persistence, why would God not? This seems to suggest that we are heard for the cry of our hearts much more than for our words. What technique or mantra did the friend use for the midnight bread?

Parenting brings out further insights concerning persistence in prayer. One child of mine has the habit of asking simply to receive--and the asking is persistent. But, just because one asks to points far exceeding irritation does not mean that one will get what is asked for. Motive is enough--in this case, I will not give in to selfishness or feed an inappropriate indulgence.

A more specific case: one child asked permission to do something and I had to disallow the request based on rules that I must follow--I simply could not allow the request. She asked again and I had to say no. She had done it before, but now the situation was different--I had to say no. She asked again, and again, and again, etc. I had to say no. She was right to ask and I could have easily caved in, but this time, due to new circumstances, I had to say no.

Both these examples speak volumes about persistence in prayer. Jesus does not say it directly, but we can assume that the requests of the friend and the lady were reasonable requests. But, as in the case of my kids, there are some unreasonable requests where God must say, "you gotta be kidding. You know better than to ask for that" and all we do is raise chaos until we wear out. On the other hand, we may ask reasonable requests and we may appeal to history that God has granted such a prayer before and assume He will do it again . . . yet for His reasons, He may decline despite persistence.

Ah, the wonders of prayer.

6. Ways and Means of Prayer

"praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching to this very thing with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." (Eph 6:18)

No kind of prayer is disallowed. Generally speaking, conversation with God in every form is acceptable; that is, talking with God requires no one posture, circumstance, place or time. What is disqualified however is mindless, meaningless prayer. Though the Spirit intercedes with groaning does not mean we just mystically "open up" in something we call "prayer" and let the Spirit do the rest. We don't close our eyes and go for the warm fuzzy. God would no more pay attention to this rude interruption of true prayerfulness than you or I would pay attention to someone who steps uninvited into a dialogue only to deliver blank stares. Prayer is not a thoughtful contemplative sigh that "only God understands". Prayer is not just breating in and out thinking that something spiritual is taking place.

In prayer, there will be a place or time when we "run out" of words--but this is where we get to listen in our insufficient dependence on Him.

The all-encompassing nature of prayer is specific, involving every opportunity to exploit every available kind of persistent and persevering constancy with God: acknowledging, confessing, imploring, asking, thanking, praising, interceding, listening as the Holy Spirit enables.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

5. aypraypraypraypraypraypraypr

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.”

When I first heard this verse, I understood this to mean exactly what it says—never stop praying. Someone once said that "prayer pulls the rope below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly; others give but an occasional pluck at the rope; but he who wins with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously, with all his might."

To borrow from an earlier illustration, I once understood that to "pray without ceasing" meant, in effect, “exhale always.” This only leads to at least one of two results: 1) God could not get a word in edgewise as one would never listen; and 2) one will reach a point where he will pass out.

Here is what other people understand what this verse means:

Fausset and Jamison hold to my former postion: “The Greek is, “Pray without intermission”; without allowing prayerless gaps to intervene between the times of prayer.”[1]

The New American Commentary helps us better understand what “pray” means: “The word chosen for “prayer” (proseuchomai) is a general one that implies a worshipful approach to God (cf. Rom 8:26). Paul encouraged his churches to make prayer a part of their personal spiritual discipline (Rom 12:12; Phil 4:6). He and his coworkers prayed together regularly (1:2; 2 Thess 1:11; Rom 1:10) and valued the prayers of the church on their behalf (5:25; cf. 2 Cor 1:11, where “prayers” are petitions, deēsei). But prayer was also a feature of the public worship of the assembly. Paul linked public prayer with prophecy in his discussion of propriety in worship in 1 Cor 11:4 and with the public exercise of gifts and giving thanks in the assembly (1 Cor 14:15–17). Clearly, Paul expected Christians both privately and in the public assembly to approach God with praise, intercessions, requests, and thanksgiving.[2]

The New Bible Commentary clarifies, explaining that “this does not mean, for example, that one prays uninterruptedly but that one prays regularly and frequently.”[3]

John MacArthur agrees: “This does not mean pray repetitiously or continuously without a break (cf. Matt. 6:7,8), but rather pray persistently (cf. Luke 11:1–13; 18:1–8) and regularly (cf. Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2,12).”[4]

The Bible Knowledge Commentary brings the general concept of prayer together with it’s frequency: “Continual prayer is not prayer that prevails without any interruption, but prayer that continues whenever possible. The adverb for continually (adialeiptōs, also in 1:3) was used in Greek of a hacking cough. Paul was speaking of maintaining continuous fellowship with God as much as possible in the midst of daily living in which concentration is frequently broken.”[5]

The Evanglical Commentary on the Bible elucidates: “If Paul had had formal, audible prayer in mind, this imperative would have been impossible to carry out. Rather, to pray constantly means that the entire life of the believer is lived in dependence on God.”[6]

Matthew Henry helps with practicality: ”We should keep up stated times for prayer, and continue instant in prayer. We should pray always, and not faint: pray without weariness, and continue in prayer, till we come to that world where prayer shall be swallowed up in praise. The meaning is not that men should do nothing but pray, but that nothing else we do should hinder prayer in its proper season. Prayer will help forward and not hinder all other lawful business, and every good work.”[7]

The Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary: “The Christian who will “keep on praying” is living in constant communion with God and is always ready to pray.”[8]

To pray without ceasing is to make prayer a way of life, not non-stop talking. Prayer is living with God in the forefront, fully aware of His presence and that He is always at work to the praise of His glory in Christ Jesus.

Someone once wrote that the more spiritual the duty, the more apt we are to tire of it. We could stand and preach all day; but we could not pray all day. We could go forth to seek the sick all day, but we could not be in our closets all day nearly as easily. To spend a night with God in prayer would be far more difficult than to spend a night with man in preaching. Oh! take care, take care, that thou dost not cease thy prayers!

[1]Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, A. R. Fausset et al.. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary., 1 Th 5:17. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
[2]Martin, D. Michael. Vol. 33, 1, 2 Thessalonians. electronic ed. Logos Library System; The New American Commentary, Page 181. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1995.
[3]Carson, D. A. New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. 4th ed., 1 Th 5:12. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
[4]MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed., 1 Th 5:17. Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997.
[5]Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985.
[6]Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Commentary on the Bible. electronic ed., 1 Th 5:17. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996, c1989.
[7]Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, 1 Th 5:16. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991.
[8]Hughes, Robert B., J. Carl Laney, and Robert B. Hughes. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. of: New Bible companion. 1990.; Includes index. The Tyndale reference library, Page 623. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

4. Lessons from the Acts of the Holy Spirit

Reading through the gospels, one gets a glimpse into the life of Christ as well as a glance into the lives of those who came into contact with Him. What strikes me immediately is that historically, the Jews had a history of “remnants”; that is, God spoke to the fathers and the prophets in many portions and in many ways and had a rather small following of obedience. Historically, we have little or no evidence that the nation ever carried out the moral, civil or ceremonial laws God established. While speaking to people on a grand scale through so many means, a handful of people ever followed through on what He said and expected. The same is true when God became flesh and dwelt among us—of the multitudes that followed, there was a small core that He called to Himself and stayed closest to Him.

Thinking of the disciples, they had so many “issues”. Jesus had to take them by the hand so many times, sat them down and explained quietly things He did and said. Of all He said and did, the practice of prayer stands out. Jesus was asked about it by the disciples, and He certainly taught about it is so many places—but He also did it. Only one time in the record of scripture did He ever do it with them—and they failed at it, sleeping instead of praying. Though they heard about it and saw it, it is only assumed the disciples themselves ever actually did it. Being good Jews, we can assume they observed a regular practice of prayer to some degree, but I wonder what their habits were like . . .

I notice in reading that not much is said about the spiritual disciplines of the disciples until just prior to Jesus' arrest. In the garden is the only time Jesus says, "pray with me" and the disciples are found not praying, but sleeping.

After Jesus ascends back to heaven, Luke records some particular events that are perhaps the only suggestion we have as to what the prayer habits of Jesus’ disciples may have been like. The record of Acts 1-2 and 6:4 gives a clue to what those prayer habits looked like against the setting of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Pentecost was a special day on the Jewish calendar marking the completion of the barley harvest. Pentecost was a feast day, “proclaimed as a ‘holy convocation’ on which no servile work was to be done, and at which every male Israelite was required to appear at the sanctuary (Lv. 23:21).” This was a day of joy and thanksgiving as it also served as a reminder of the necessity of the sin and peace offerings, of the Exodus from Egypt and that God had a covenant with His people. The main idea is that God accepts the offering because sin is removed and the people are reconciled to God. Pentecost later became to be identified with anniversary of the LORD’s giving of the law at Sinai. The Sadducees observed Pentecost on the 50th day from the first Sunday after Passover. [1]

When we get to Acts 2:1, the feast is underway, the disciples and others are gathered per Jesus’ instruction. “The Holy Spirit came on this day as the firstfruits of the believer’s inheritance (cf. 2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:11, 14).”[2]

How does the pouring out of the Holy Spirit affect the prayer practices of the early church? The disciples saw Jesus pray and heard Him teach about it. Now they were in a festival where prayer should have been ingrained as a way of life. Jesus had made the sacrifice and the way was open for mankind to be reconciled to God. The disciples were obviously praying about something that was on all their minds—and the Holy Spirit came, empowering them to continue the words and works of Jesus. The disciples saw a direct link between what they were now doing, who God made them to be, and prayer. They prayed, then ministered. They prayed, then ministry reaped it’s harvest. They prayed and ministered. The acted like Jesus: praying and ministering.

Prayer became associated with action, and was less an activity.

[1]Wood, D. R. W., D. R. W. Wood, and I. Howard Marshall. New Bible Dictionary. Includes index. electronic ed. of 3rd ed., Page 898. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996, c1982, c1962.
[2]MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed., Ac 2:1. Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

3. How to be a Practical Humanist

If you've not read the previous two blogs, please do so now (they are not long, but will help makes sense of this post).

I confessed it. I am a practical humanist. I told God He is insufficient by supplanting Him with me. I told God that all He has done for me is not enough by relying on my own strength and methods. I draw my resources from the prosperity of America and not from provisions of my Father, who knows how to give His children all good things. I satisfy myself with the glories of the physical realm and have no regard for the heavenly. I presume on the grace of God instead of depending on the grace of God. I confuse earthly successes with heavenly blessings.

I live as if God was not necessary.

Here are 10 steps to becoming a practical humanist:

1) Swap out God for another, cheaper, more economic one;
2) Model your new god after anything that works for you—you will worship it when you are alone, mostly;
3) Wear the name of God proudly, but don’t associate yourself or your idol with it;
4) Set your schedule for what works for you—freetime and leisure are yours, be a “play”-er, not a “pray”-er;
5) Live according to your rules, your way. Get out of the house as soon as you can and as often as possible;
6) Don’t let anyone get in your way.
7) Live like an animal. Self gratification is instinctual, so “go for it”;
8) Take it. You deserve it;
9) Bending the truth is fine, if it serves your purposes;
10) If it belongs to you, it is yours. If it belongs to someone else, it is yours.

2. This is the Prayer I Breathe

Is prayer a simple matter as "inhale" (suck it in!) and "exale" (blow it out!), as simple as talking and listening? Perhaps this is too simple. Well, let's see: must I talk? Must I listen? Put it another way: must I inhale? Must I exhale? If breathing is not optional to my survival, why do I think prayer is? (Maybe it is not so simple)

Breathing is an atmospheric response: outside pressure is exerted against the lungs and we are forced to draw air. Holding our breath is holding out against pressure--we must take a breath, or one will be taken for us (unless we pass out or die from asphyxiation).

I actually tend to hold my breath, going as long as I can on what is on my lungs. I do this without knowing until suddenly I find myself gasping for air. I can be working at my desk, driving, or working outside and suddenly I realize what has happened and I must take a moment to catch up. I tend to do this in my Christian practice as well. So if you find me lying down spiritually, I've not been slain in the spirit, but have probably passed out. I would prefer to be found face-down and sliding into the prayer-closet (but that's another illustration).

Here's the catch: if it is "in Him we live, move, and have our being," then our spiritual atmosphere is God, and it is His "pressure" (by virtue of my new life in His presence) on my spiritual lungs that causes me to "breathe."

A brief moment alone with God once per week, or every once-in-a-while is insufficient and I am gasping.

Think of this: a child's Sunday School class--you've seen them, carrying around little dixie cups of dirt every Spring. Every day the kids are to read their Bibles and pray; then, and only then, could they water the plant. Think about it. If the kids didn’t read the Bible and didn’t pray, the plants weren’t watered and eventually, died. As they saw what happened to their plants, the kids also saw what happened to their souls and to their lives.

How does your garden grow?

1. “freetime”, leisure and quiet-time

Sorry for not posting for a while. I have been so busy that blogging has fallen by the wayside. All things related to work, teaching Sunday School, Introduction to Christian Ethics, running our Harvest Hope agency and all other family matters in between have been keeping me busy.

I am reading a book on prayer (among so many others) called "Alone with God" by Dr. John MacArthur. I intend to post my thoughts stemming from my Bible reading and supplimental reading from the book. Here is the first installment:

Free time and the ways it disappears was the subject about which I was going to write. Stepping back to consider the matter, I suddenly realize that "free time" is illusionary. What I mean is that "free time" should not exist--the concept is a cultural phenomenon. Theologically speaking, time and its stewardship should be theocentric (God-centered) and each moment should be filled with God-ward thoughts. This is one principle of the Sabbath.

Free-time is threatened because we have tried to compartmentalize time itself from God and try to save a slice of time as our very own to do with as we please. Considering what one may or want to do in leisure-time, the reflexive consideration is about those things that consume too much of our time. Somehow we are to have "God time" on the list: does it fit into the beginning or end of the schedule? Should I have quiet and prayer time in the cobwebs of the percolating dawn hours, or just before I pass out at dark:30?

Makes one wonder: whatever happened to the Sabbath?

Another question: Should 2 hours and 40 minutes of each day be tithed?

John MacArthur reminds us that each waking moment should be prayerful, as one cannot pray in the unconsciousness of sleep. On the other hand, Charles Spurgeon once commented that our minds should be so God-directed that, in the event of sleep our first waking moment should be as if our sleep was accomplished in prayer.

Getting our heart set on God has nothing to do with how much free time we have or not. Nor should it depend on our leisure time--except for this: free time and leisure time are my idols. I am convinced that in our current mind-set, the Sabbath has been twisted and reshaped into this other time-slot bezerker.

Does it really matter that I am a morning or evening person when the Bible makes no distinction? What is clear is that the day was made for waking and the night for sleeping. A more precise question could be, “does my alertness really influence the quality of quiet time and prayer?” Possibly, but this should not matter as now alertness becomes an excuse.

The true questions are: is my heart God-set? What is my priority in Christian living? The answers to these reveal both who and what is most important to me.

The sad reality: I don't live out God-centeredness well because I am a practicing humanist.

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