Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 3)

How should God’s mercy and love impact your prayer life?

Earlier this week I started a three-part mini-series of posts exploring the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This is important because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer. This is the third and final post in that series.

One of the most descriptive passages of God in the New Testament is the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. This parable is more than a story, it’s a picture of the Heavenly Father.

A loving father of two sons experienced great heartbreak. The youngest son demanded his inheritance early so that he could waste it all on himself. After his money was gone, the younger son got a job feeding pig and dreamed about the comforts of home.

Every day, the loving father would go out to the road and look for his son’s return. As soon as he saw him, the father ran to meet his son, greeted him, and embraced him. Instead of punishing the son, he called for a celebration.

This vivid parable teaches us that the Heavenly Father is loving and merciful which means He will forgive you. Love includes a group of virtues like benevolence, graciousness, mercy, and persistence. When we read that “God is love” in 1 John 4:7, it means that He is all of those things.

Jesus included this character quality in His model prayer along with the holiness and trustworthiness of the Heavenly Father. In Matthew 6:12, Jesus urges us to call out to God to “forgive us our debts.”

Here are three tips for receiving God’s forgives through prayer

1. Cultivate a healthy view of your sin. We have a tendency to go to extremes in our understanding of sin. On one hand, we can blow sin out of proportion, making it impossible to to deal with. On the other hand, we can minimize sin to such an extent that it doesn’t really matter.

2. Take Him at His Word – He will forgive. 1 John 1:9 states that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)” This is a promise.

3. Confess your sin audibly if possible, to make it more definite. We can pray silently to ourselves or out loud for others to hear. Sometimes, praying out loud makes our prayer more focused and more definite.

The Heavenly Father is loving and merciful which means He will forgive you We can receive that forgiveness and make it our own through prayer. Thanks for join for this three-part mini-series on the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. Feel free to add one of your own tips for receiving God’s forgiveness in prayer in the comment section below.

Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 2)

What does God’s truthfulness mean for our prayer life?

Yesterday I started a mini-series of posts exploring the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This material is based on breakout session I shared recently at a conference. This is important because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer.

The prophet Jeremiah warned the Israelites numerous times throughout the Old Testament book that bears his name, but one of the most colorful warnings is recorded in Jeremiah 10:1-10. The nations that surrounded Israel studied astronomical phenomena like eclipses and comets so they could worship the sun, moon, and stars as gods. In order to make their worship more tangible, they made idols out of wood and decorated them with precious metal.

Jeremiah described the deceptive nature of these worthless gods with a heavy dose of sarcasm. They looked impressive but they were fake. They were seen as powerful, but they had to be carried around like an infant. They were feared but the idols couldn’t do anything, good or evil, to enforce their will.

Jeremiah presents a sharp contrast in verse 6. Rather than being deceptive, God is trustworthy and lives up to His reputation. He stands above any other supposed god. He is great and mighty. He is real and alive, not fabricated. Jeremiah’s God was a real and truthful so He can be trusted.

Once again, Jesus brings out this aspect of the Heavenly Father’s character in his model prayer in Matthew 6:11. After acknowledging God’s holiness, Jesus asks the Father to “give us this day our daily bread.” This simple request is an expression of dependance and trust in the Heavenly Father.

Here are three tips for building your trust in God through prayer:

1. Focus on God, not just His blessings. Some folks only pray when they need or want something. God the Father loves to bless and provide for His children, but He also loves to spend time with them. Try to set aside time to pray even if you don’t need anything.

2. Be persistent, which is a sign of dependence. When you do make a request, repeat yourself often and be consistent. Not in a ritualistic way, but as a way to express your dependence on God.

3. Write out your prayer requests so that you can document His faithfulness. I tend to be forgetful. When I forget what I prayed for in the past, I miss an opportunity to praise God for His faithfulness in the present. Writing down you prayer petitions make it easier to trace out the trustworthiness of God.

God is real and truthful so He can be trusted. We can build our trust in God through prayer. Join me again tomorrow as I trace out another silhouette of the Heavenly Father. Feel free to add one of your own tips for expressing reverence in prayer in the comment section below.

Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 1)

What does God’s holiness mean for our prayer life?

Recently, I got a chance to participate in a conference by leading a breakout session on the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This was an exciting study for me to share because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer. This blog post will kickoff a miniseries of blog posts on Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father.

One of the most illuminating stories about the character of God on the Old Testament is Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-9. Moses had a mixed-up family tree. He was raised by a Jewish family and then adopted at an early age by the princess of Egypt. He grew up in the palace but eventually rebelled left home. When he found a wife on the backside of the dessert he also found a and a job taking care of his father-in-law’s flock.

While Moses was working he encountered a burning bush near Mt Horeb. It wasn’t unusual to see a bush on fire in the desert, but it was unusual that it wasn’t consumed. When Moses approached the fire to investigate, the Lord called out to him and told him to take off his sandals. Removing one’s shoes was a sign of reverence and humility in the presence of a holy God.

The fatherhood of God is assumed throughout the Old Testament. He always cared for and protected His people as His promises were passed down from generation to generation. That’s why it’s not surprising that the Lord introduces Himself in verse 6 as, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob.”

God was about to call Moses to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt, but first Moses had to learn that God is holy. Because God is holy He must be revered. Reverence is an attitude of fear, awe, and respect for someone in a position of authority.

Jesus Christ makes the connection between the fatherhood of God, God’s holiness, and prayer in His model prayer in Matthew. 6:9-14. After addressing His prayer to “Our Father who is in heaven,” He prays, “Hallowed (or holy) is your name.”

Here are three tips for expressing your reverence for God in prayer

1. Adjust your posture accordingly. The posture that we use as we pray is a reflection of our inner attitude towards God. You may need to stand, knee, or even lay prostrate to express your reverence toward Him.

2. Focus on God’s awesomeness before your need. Our innate selfishness pushes to focus on ourselves first before anyone else. Try listing out some of God’s praiseworthy attributes in addition to His holiness before you list out what you a looking for in prayer. This will help you put your wants and desires in perceptive as you approach the God of the universe.

3. Make every request contingent on God’s will. We often pray for the will of God to be done, but do we really mean it? Praying according to God’s will means He may have a better way of dealing with your request than you could have ever thought of. It takes humility and reverence to see that on a consistent basis.

God is holy and therefore He must be revered in our prayers. Join me again tomorrow as I trace out another silhouette of the Heavenly Father. Feel free to add one of your own tips for expressing reverence in prayer in the comment section below.

A Prayer List for Leaders

Psalm 101 describes the king’s commitment to lead in a faithful and godly manner. It was probably used at coronations or other celebration of the king in ancient Israel. A quick reading reveals principles that can be applied to political, business, or even church leaders in any age.

Dr. Daniel Estes turns these principles into a verse-by-verse prayer list for leaders in his excellent New American Commentary on Psalm 73-150. This list can be a series of prompts for prayer or a template for evaluating current and potential leaders.

  • May they maintain a genuine, humble commitment to live by the values of God (v. 1).
  • May they demonstrate integrity in their personal lives (v. 2).
  • May they have discernment to see through issues and people (v. 3).
  • May they be committed to godly standards of right and wrong (v. 4).
  • May they exercise wisdom in their choice of associates (v. 5-6).
  • May they take a courageous stand against evil, even at personal cost (v. 7).
  • May they be just in exerting active moral influence in their sphere of responsibility (v. 8).

Be sure to pray for yourself as you pray for others. Faithful and godly leadership is meant to set an example we all can follow.

Dr. Daniel J. Estes serves as the Distinguished Professor of OT at Cedarville University. While I was a student at Cedarville he was my academic advisor. He is an expert in the poetic books of the Bible and his writing encourages and challenges my soul.

Four Ways to Choose Faith Over Fear

little-boy-1635065_640

 There’s a new virus spreading across America and its effects are much more deadly than COVID-19. The new sickness that’s spreading is fear. People are afraid to leave their homes because they might catch the COVID-19 virus and die. In some communities, they are afraid to leave their homes because they might get caught up in a violent protest.  Friends and neighbors are hesitant to look at each other in the eye at the grocery store for fear of being judged for not taking enough precautions or for taking too many precautions. Unfortunately, the nation’s politicians and news outlets are fanning the flames of fear to grab headlines and boost their ratings. Make no mistake about it, COVID-19 and racial injustice are serious threats – but fear is the greatest threat in our country right now.

Those who are familiar with the Old Testament will remember another time when fear was a great threat to God’s people. Joshua stepped up to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land in the first chapter of the book that bears his name, and he was afraid. The Israelites had already failed once to enter the Promised Land and the people there were fierce and powerful. Even though Joshua had some good reason to be afraid, he chose faith over fear. As we follow his example in this chapter, we find four ways to choose faith over fear in our present situation.

  1. Experience God’s Presence (vv. 1-6).

God wanted Joshua to know that He was the one leading Joshua before He called Joshua to lead His people. In other words, God promised that He would always be with Joshua. The newly-appointed leader’s success didn’t rest on his performance, but on God’s sovereign presence and power

The same is true today. God takes care of His people like a loving Heavenly Father. There is nothing that happens to us that does not pass through His sovereign hedge of protection. Even when we can’t understand why He allows something painful to happen, we can trust that He has a plan.

  1. Establish God’s Word as a Priority (vv. 7-9)

God promised Joshua success if he obeyed The Law – God’s Written Word. He was to be so focused on it that he would not deviate from it to the right or the left. Even though Joshua was involved in a military and political operation, God wanted Joshua to know His heart.

I am not trying to minimize the dangers we are facing right now. I am saying that it is much easier to walk by faith in God when we read and study His Word regularly. Political crises, healthcare emergencies, and natural disasters will come and go, but God’s Word remains forever (1 Peter 1:25).

  1. Embrace Biblical Community (vv. 10-15).

Once God prepared Joshua, he shared his plans with the rest of the Israelite people, even the Reubenites, Gadites, and part of the tribe of Manasseh. These three tribes had made special arrangements to settle on the east side of the Jordan River. But Joshua knew that if they were to be successful, they would need everybody to be involved.

The greatest source of community and encouragement in the New Testament world is the Church. The COVID-19 crisis has made it difficult to meet face-to-face the way we always have, but that doesn’t mean we should give up the practice altogether. Faith is encouraged and fear is kept at a distance when we know we are not alone.

  1. Energize Yourself and Others to Move Forward (vv. 16-18).

The Israelites responded positively to Joshua’s instructions. But Joshua knew they needed more than good intentions to conquer Promised Land. He reminded them of God’s promises and pushed them to move forward.

Fear tends to paralyze us. We can fight that tendency by moving closer to our goals, even if it is only one small step at a time. Giving up and giving in to fear is not an option if you know that God has a great plan for your life.

Joshua’s courageous example inspires us to choose faith over fear. As we read in the 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (HCSB). We must use the power, love, and common sense that God has given us to vaccinate ourselves from the virus of fear that has infected so many in these times.

You Are What You Pray

prayer11

We are familiar with the phrase, “you are what you eat,” but did you know you are what you pray? Our prayers connect us with God, but they also reveal our priorities. The things we prioritize, we pursue, and the things we purse we become. If you thank God for your food, you become grateful. If you pray for the safety of your friends and family, you become caring. If you pray for unbelievers to come to Christ, you become evangelistic.

Jesus focused on his mission and his followers throughout his earthly ministry. It shouldn’t surprise us that when he prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion, he prayed a selfless, mission-focused prayer. The prayer recorded in John 17:1-26 has been labeled many ways but it was Jesus’ last words before he was taken away and killed. In it, Jesus prayed for three distinct things.

1. JESUS PRAYED FOR HIS MISSION TO BE COMPLETE (v. 1-5).

Jesus came to earth with a mission to live a perfect life and die a perfect death so that he could save the world and share his life with his followers. If Jesus didn’t finish his mission his disciples wouldn’t have a mission of their own or a message to share. Jesus knew how important his mission was.

Notice three principles from this section of Jesus’ prayer that helped Him finish. First, Jesus was God-centered (v. 1). Prayer is more than a task, it is a relationship. Second, Jesus has an eternal focus. Eternity begins at conversion, progresses with Christian growth and discipleship, and continues on into heaven. Third, Jesus was totally surrendered. Jesus gave us his own will so that He could accomplish the will of the Heavenly Father.

2. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE CHARACTER OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-17).

Jesus prayed for three things in regards to the character of his followers. First, he prayed that they would be kept in God’s name (v. 1). Someone’s name usually represents their character in the bible. Jesus prayed that his followers would be kept close and their character would mirror his own.

Second, Jesus also prayed that his followers would be kept from the evil one (v. 15). Jesus acknowledged that Satan’s destructive influence in the world. Jesus prayed that his followers would be protected from that influence. Satan may be a bully, but he should not be feared.

Third, Jesus prayed that his followers be set apart in the truth of God (v. 17). God’s Word should have a prominent place in the lives of Christ’s followers. There are five practices today that allow God’s Word to permeate your life: hearing the bible, reading the bible, studying the bible, memorizing the bible, and meditating on the bible.

3. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE MISSION OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-26).

Unfortunately, there are many people today who do not finish their God-given mission. The average church loses 3% of its membership each year. Thousands of pastors leave the ministry each year before retirement.

Jesus prayed that his follower would all be one (v. 11). Solidarity is just as important for individual local churches as it is for the Church as a whole. Unity is more than just doing stuff together, its “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).

Jesus also prayed that his follower would be with him where he was (v. 24). He has just announced that he would be leaving his disciples behind while he went to prepare a place for them in heaven (John 14). Even though he would be leaving, he wanted his followers to be with him eventually so they would see his glory.

Jesus prayed for himself and his followers because you are what you pray. His prayer flowed from his priorities and passions. What do your prayers say about your priorities and passions? Are you working to complete your God-given mission? Are you developing a Christ-like character? Are you contributing to the oneness of your church?

Like in many other area of life, you and I have good intentions. But if you genuinely want to make good on of those good intentions, start with prayer.

Why I Pray for My Church Members and then Tell Them About It.

patrick-fore-26857-unsplash
As a pastor, I have the privilege of shepherding a flock of God’s people through prayer (1 Peter 5:2). Prayer is just one of many tools of a spiritual shepherd. While I have always prayed for the church that I serve, I have just recently started to pray for the members of my church systematically.
After I pray for them I stop and write a note to let them know I prayed for them. The note is not a request for a pat on the back, but a line of spiritual encouragement and communication. Handwritten notes are meaningful and welcome these days because they are so rare.
I pastor a “mid-sized church” which allows me to pray through our church directory about once or twice a year. A weekly and daily goal allows me to make consistent progress without feeling rushed. A family-by-family approach ensures that none is left out.
This practice has yielded benefits for me and the people I serve. Here is a list of the benefits in each category:
Benefits for me
  • It helps me pray consistently.
  • It helps me learn names and make connections between families.
  • It helps me stay connected to quieter “sheep.”
  • It helps me move people forward in their faith.
  • It helps me encourage those who are struggling and hurting.
  • It helps me update contact information.

Benefits for my church members

  • It reminds them they are not alone.
  • It gives them a personal connection to their pastor.
  • It allows them to focus on the positive side of their pain and problems.
  • It teaches them about the importance of prayer.
  • It encourages families to talk about spiritual issues and the church.
  • It highlights the care of the whole church.

Churches come in all shapes and sizes, but they all need prayer. Pastors have the unique responsibility and privilege to shepherd their people through prayer. I hope this guide helps you pray for your church members more effectively.

Are you a pastor or a church member?

How often do you pray for others in your church?

How do you highlight the importance of prayer in your church?

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Six Tips for Leading Others in Prayer

How can you lead others in public prayer more effectively?

prayer-part-2-pic-web-586x300Pastors, deacons, and other Christian leaders often have to privilege of leading others in prayer in a worship service, Bible study, or similar gathering. Here are six suggestions to help you pray more effectively in public.

  1. Prepare.  Prayers don’t have to be spontaneous to be meaningful. Feel free to write down some notes or focus your mind for few minutes before hand so that you will feel more at ease.
  1. Don’t apologize.  Nervousness or humility can lead some people to start their prayer out with an apology. Leave it up to the congregation to decide if they are sorry that you were asked to lead in prayer; don’t make their mind up for them.
  1. Match the mood of the service.  Different services have different tones. Some services are energetic and upbeat while others are more somber and reflective. If you violate this principle you may make people wonder if you have been attention to the rest of the service.
  1. Pray for the benefit of other.  Leading others in public prayer is not the same as praying by yourself. Share enough details to draw the congregation in, but not enough to embarrass yourself or the people listening to you.
  1. Don’t editorialize. Public prayer is not the place to air your negative thoughts or opinions on the sermon, the church, or other church leaders. Instead, concentrate on lifting others up and leading them into the presence of God.
  1. Keep it relatively brief.  You will not wear God out, but you might wear the congregation if you choose to drag on with long-winded prayer.   If this suggestion doesn’t make sense, review the previous suggestions till it does.

This is not an exhaustive list.  What would you add to it to help other pray more effectively in public?

How to Start a Prayer Support Team

prayerWhen it comes to prayer support, there is no such thing as too much.  I’ve never met a Christian leader, paid or volunteer, who complained because they had too many people praying for them, too often, or with too much passion.  If you  need more prayer support, you may want to form a prayer support team.

A few years ago I read The Book of Church Growth by Thom Rainer.   In a chapter on the power of prayer, Rainer listed 6 potential facets of a church-wide prayer ministry.  One of those ideas was to organize a team of prayer warriors called the “Pastor’s Intercessory Prayer Partners” who were devoted to pray for their pastor and his ministry on a daily basis.  Over the past few years I’ve taken this idea and put it to use in my own ministry with some modifications.  I call my team the “Pastor’s Prayer Team,” but you don’t have to be a pastor or a church staff member to benefit from this approach.  You could use it with your Bible study group, international mission ministry, or non-profit organization.  All you need is a ministry, a group of people who are willing to pray for you, and a way to communicate with them.  Here is a 5-step process for starting or improving your own prayer support team.

1. Teach and model the importance of prayer.

Jesus did more than just talk about prayer. He taught his disciples how pray and modeled prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane among other places (Luke 11:1-13, Matthew 26:36-46).  People will not be motivated to pray if they don’t know how to pray or why prayer is important.  They will not be eager to join you in pray if they are not convinced that you are passionate and persistent in your own prayer life.

2.  Ask people to commit.

Some people are not ready or willing to join a prayer support team, but some are!  Those who are willing are just waiting for your invitation.  This can be done in a number of ways, but I would recommend doing it in writing so you have a list of people for follow-up. Depending on your situation you could use a sign-up sheet, a commitment card, but I prefer email.  I ask those who are interested in joining the team to send me an email to let me know.  Then, I use those email addresses to send a return email acknowledging their request and to build a distribution list for future use.

I do not ask my prayer support team members to commit to a specific frequency of prayer.  Instead, I ask them to pray for me, my family, and my ministry on a “regular” basis. If that ends up being daily, great; if it ends up being once a week or every other week, I’ll take it.  My goal is to equip and organize people to pray.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from participating just because they can not make a daily commitment.

3. Share regular praises and prayer requests.

Once again, this can be suited to your situation.  You can send out regular praise and prayer requests via “snail mail,” email, or social media.  They could also be added to a newsletter, either in print or online.  I choose to use email because it is faster and easier than “snail mail,” but more manageable and accessible for the people on my team.

Praises should be shared along with prayer requests because people like to hear good news along with your needs.  Sharing praises is a way of thanking your team for their prayer as well as reminding them that prayer really does make a difference.

Every ministry has its own cycle.  A non-profit organization or missions ministry may operate best on a quarterly or monthly cycle.  The local church runs on a weekly cycle, so I try to send out my praise and prayer requests on a weekly basis.  Whatever your frequency, let your team know your intentions and stick to them.

4.  Be humble and transparent.

This is not as much of a step as it is a general principle.  One of the pitfalls of kingdom work, especially if it is perceived as successful, is pride.  Pride causes us to keep others at a comfortable distance because we are afraid they might see our flaws.  This simply will not work with a prayer support team.  Put yourself in the shoes of one of your team members.  Would you be motived to pray regularly for someone who came across as superficial or fake?  This does not mean you should share every sin and struggle with your team.  It does mean, however, that you need to be open and honest about your needs

5.  Show gratitude and appreciation

Who doesn’t like a little appreciation for their efforts?  Being a part of a prayer support team is usually something that is done behind the scenes.  In order to keep your team inspired and engaged, you need to let them know they are not alone and they are making a difference in your life and ministry.  You should tell your prayer support team how much you appreciate them every time you share your praises and prayer requests. You may also want to send a separate “thank you” note sometime throughout the year.  If you use email like I do, you may choose to send a “pen-and-paper note” for emphasis.  If possible, you could organize a reception once a year to recognize your prayer support team and let them interact with each other.

What methods have you found effective for recruiting prayer support?  Have you ever formed a prayer support team?  How have you benefited from the process?

Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: The Danger of Success

SuccessSuccess can be gratifying, but it can also be dangerous.  When things come together in life or in ministry, it makes you want to surge ahead and tackle the next challenge.   Momentum is an important part of success, but it can give you a false sense of independence from God and push you beyond His guidance and direction.

Take the Israelites for example in Joshua chapter 9.  Their victories over Jericho and Ai had “the kings beyond the Jordan” on the defensive.  The Gibeonites, however, went on the offensive by pretending to be people from a far away country.  They gathered worn out supplies, put on worn out clothes, and came to Joshua and the men of Israel asking for peace.  The Israelites asked the right questions, but they didn’t ask the right people.  They were so flattered by the Gibeonite’s ruse they made  covenant with them without even asking God for his advice (9:14).  In other words, Joshua and the Israelite leaders rushed ahead of God and made a major decision without consulting God and it cost them.  When the truth came out, the people of Israel grumbled against their leaders (9:18).  When the Gibeonites were attacked, the Israelites were forced to defend a people they had been commanded to destroy.

How have you seen this situation play out in your life or ministry?

What decisions are you, your church, or organization facing in the next week, month, or year?

Have you taken time to seek the Lord’s counsel on these issues?