Trouble Shooting Your Prayer Life

prayer11The lights on the front of my garage are a mystery to me.  They come on when they want and go off when they want, no matter what I do with the switch.  I’ve checked to see if they are on timer and I’ve replaced both bulbs.  The best explanation that I have is that there is a disconnect somewhere in the electrical circuit that feeds the lights.

This reminds me a little of my prayer life.  Sometimes the lights are on and everything is great.  Other times things are dark and I don’t know why.  The Bible teaches that God hears and answers prayer, but I don’t always feel like my prayers are getting through.  Sometimes there seems to be a mysterious disconnect in my prayer life.  As I began to search for answers I found four prayer short circuits in the book of James.

1. LACK OF FAITH (James 1:5-8)

What sort of things inspire you to pray and what discourages you?  In these verses we see that expectation (or faith) is an essential part of prayer.  Our expectations can be bigger than our circumstances, because our God is bigger than our circumstances.  Those who lack faith are like the waves of the ocean that tossed back and forth by their circumstances.  They don’t pray with expectation because they are overwhelmed by what is happening around them.

The only way to fix this short circuit is to own up to it.  Like the man with the demon-possessed son in Mark 9:24, we must cry out, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” God is not offended by our lack of faith when we are willing to admit it and humble enough to ask for his help.

2. FAILTURE TO ASK (4:2b)

Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt; sometimes it breeds indifference and neglect.  My wife and I have been married for 13 years now.  On more than one occasion, I have had to ask her, “Did we talk about X, or did I just think about it?” God knows us better than our spouses know us.  He knows what we are thinking before the words come out of our mouths, but he still loves to interact with us through prayer.

This short circuit can be resolved by simply speaking up.   Either audibly or internally, God wants to hear from His children.  King David is a good example of this.  In Psalm 5:1-3, he wrote “in the morning I lay my requests before you (God) and wait patiently.”  Go to God with your wants, concerns, and needs and He will do want is best.

3. SELFISH MOTIVES (4:3)

The Apostle Paul included two of his prayers for the Ephesian believers in his book to the (Ephesians 1:15-18, 3:14-19).  What strikes me about these prayers is how selfless and spiritual they are.  Human nature drives us to ask God for things that benefit us.  It also moves us to pray for temporal things above the eternal.  But Paul seemed to be aware of James’ words here.

God’s plans for this world are much bigger than you and your needs and wants.  The way to repair this short circuit is to keep following Paul’s example.  In Ephesians 6:18 he offers prayer “for all the saints” as way to challenge us to look beyond ourselves.

4. UNCONFESSED SIN (5:13-16)

The book of James is a challenging book that addresses a long catalogue of sin.  In just five short chapters, James deals with apathy and inaction (1:26-27), partially and prejudice (2:9), an untamed tongue (3:6), jealousy and selfish ambition (3:14), arguing and murder (4:1ff), pride and boasting (4:16), and stinginess and extravagance (5:3).  In chapter 5, however, James urges his readers to “confess your sins to one another” (5:16).  This crucial for restoring broken relationships on a human level, but it presupposes confessing your sins to God as well.

The clear fix for this short circuit is repentance.  When we confess our sin and turn to God for forgiveness, He rushes to embrace us.  1 John 1:9 states, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”

When we don’t feel like God is hearing or answering our prayer, it is easy assume that the problem is with God, but that is not true.  Our connection with God can be interrupted by a number of things.  Which one of these short circuits have you experienced?  How did you overcome it?  What would you add to the list?

The Care and Feeding of a Pastor and His Family

Shepherd-prepares-table-for-sheepThe coming of a new pastor can be one of the most anticipated and exciting times in the life of a church.  While the pastor is energized about his new ministry assignment, the congregation is eager to see how their new pastor and his family will fit into the life of the church.  During this time of high expectation, church members are usually willing to do whatever they can to help him settle in and be successful.  So how should a church care for their pastor and his family?  Here are three suggestions

1. Accept your pastor and his family and love them for who they are.

Pastors are called to do just that – pastor or shepherd the flock of God, under the guidance of the Chief Shepherd of the Church, Jesus Christ.  According to 1 Peter 5:1-4, your new pastor has not come to your church because he had to, but because he wanted to come. He did not come to get rich, but to serve.  He did not come to be over your church, but to become a vital part of it.   Caring for a church in this way is rewarding, but it is also very challenging.

Please remember that your pastor and his family are not perfect.  We all have our own struggles and weakness, including your pastor and his family. So don’t put them on a pedestal but embrace them for who they are. Also remember that your pastor and his family are not performers.   They need rest and relax just as much as everyone else.   In the case of your pastor’s family, remember they are not paid.  The pastor’s wife is not a buy-one-get-one-free staff member.  She should be free to exercise her gifts and abilities in the church without the added pressure of filling some official role.

2. Support your pastor.

1 Timothy 5:17-18 teaches that a pastor who leads well and works hard at preaching and teaching God’s Word should be respected and supported by the church. Depending on the size and resources of your church, the cost of living in your community, and the size of his family, your pastor should be offered a salary, housing reimbursement, insurance, retirement, and ministry reimbursements.   Instead of looking to get the “best deal for your money,” make every effort to provide for your pastor in the best way you can.

Financial support is good, but pastors also need spiritual and emotional support as well.  Ask your pastor how you can pray for him and his family and commit to pray for them regularly.   Look for ways to partner with him to build up the body of Christ according the model found in Ephesians 4:11-16.  Encourage and enable him to take time off and time away from your church and community.   A day off during the week and regular vacations will go a long way toward keeping your pastor and his family happy and healthy.

3. Let your pastor lead.

Leadership is inherent in the office and responsibilities of a pastor.  Different pastors lead in different ways, but every pastor is a leader.  Hebrews 13:17 warns churches against resisting the leadership of their pastor.  Your pastor is accountable to God for his ministry in your church.  But he must be allowed to exercise his unique talents, gifts, and abilities in leading your church.

Letting your pastor lead begins with trust.  Trust is built on relationships, so look for ways to get to know your pastor and his family outside of organized church meetings.  Be prayerful and open minded about any changes he may want to bring to your church.  And be aware of the stress and strain his family may be under as they support him in his ministry.

The newness may fade on your pastor’s ministry, but the anticipation and excitement don’t have to.  These are just three ways that you can care for your pastor and his family.   Can you think of more ways to help your pastor have a long and fruitful ministry at your church?

Focus

focus1Like most kids growing in up in a small farming town, I would often complain that there was nothing to do.  While we didn’t have many cool spots to hangout, we did have lots of trails, hills, and fields.  That led my friends and I to mountain biking.  Most people think of a bicycle as an under-age form of transportation; once you reach the magic age of 16 you get your license and there is no need to ride one anymore.  For my friends and I, mountain biking became an escape from the pressures of growing up and a way to channel our sense of discovery.

As I learned more about mountain bikes and mountain biking, I discovered a principle that not only improved my riding skills, it changed the way I view life.   The principle is this: your focus determines your direction.   As you ride down a trail on a mountain bike you are bound to come across obstacles like roots, or rocks, or thick mud.  The temptation is to focus on these obstacles for fear of crashing into them.  The trick is to stay focused on the clear path because wherever your eyes are focused that is the direction you’ll go.

This principle is true for life was well: wherever you focus on, that is direction that you will go.   If you focus on money, you will make choices based on their financial benefits.  If you focus on your family, your choices will be heavily influenced by our family.  If your focus is on your own pleasure, our choices will reflect that too.

Jesus seems to have lived by this principle when we read what He had to say about his life and ministry.  When his fame grew and the people of Capernaum wanted to keep Jesus all to themselves, Jesus said, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).  When the Pharisees criticized him for eating with tax collectors and sinners he explained, I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).    And when James and John wanted destroy a village of Samaritans for rejecting Jesus, he told them, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56).  It is clear from these verses, and others, that Jesus had a focus and a purpose for his ministry.  He was able to avoid obstacles and hang-ups by saying, “no,” to distractions and misconceptions and by stating his mission clearly.

This leads me to ask some questions: Where is your focus?  Are you focused on maintaining an institution or fulfilling a mission?  Is your church focused inward on itself or outward on its community?  Are you focused on making disciples or just making converts?  I don’t know all of the obstacles you will face in the future, but I do know there will be obstacles.  The trick is to focus on the clear path ahead and keep pressing on.

 

Are You Called?

5-Phone-Calls-That-Saved-Me-100I think one of the reasons that believers fail to live like missionaries is because they don’t feel “called.”  Pastors and missionaries are the ones who are called, everyone is else is just along for the ride.  That is simply not true.  God has called all of his children to salvation in Christ.  He has called everyone so they might walk in “good works” (Ephesians 2:10).

In Ephesians 3:1-13, Paul reflects on his calling to ministry as an apostle to Gentiles and in doing so gives us some very helpful instructions for understanding and fulfilling our own calling.  In Paul’s reflection we learn that God’s call is always personal.  He has a place for you to serve that only you can fill.  We also learn that God’s call is always timely, His plan for you may be redirected or refined over time, but his timing is always right.  Finally we learn that God’s call is always clear.   Not only will He show you what He has called you to, He will also show you how to fullfulling your calling.

Where has God called you to serve?