Pray and Do Not Give Up

Jesus teaches us to keep praying and to not stop until we get an answer

Pray and Do Not Give UpJesus gives us an object lesson (a parable) of a widow who keeps appearing before a judge to seek justice. A bad adjudicator, he cares nothing of her, of public opinion, or of God, but she wears him down with her continual plea. He eventually grants her request, not because she’s in the right or because he desires to do what is just, but because he wants her to stop bugging him. He gives her what she wants to keep her quiet.

Then Jesus compares this to prayer and seeking justice from God. If a corrupt judge will ultimately give in, how much more does a just God desire to give us what we want? The key is to not give up and to keep praying.

Of course we can ask a lot of questions about this simple teaching, and theologians have offered an array of explanations. But lest we become bogged down in the minutia of questions and explanations, let’s not forget the basic principle to keep asking God to provide the things we need.

If it’s important to us, we need to keep praying and not give up until we receive our answer. Does this sound a bit like pestering God? I’m not sure, but Jesus taught us to do it, so it’s surely acceptable.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 18, and today’s post is on Luke 18:1-7.]

A Christian Response to Criticism

Jesus provides a simple solution for us to follow when we face opposition  

A Christian Response to CriticismRecently a friend asked for some assistance at a writers conference, for help in modeling a writer critique process. I and several others were happy to volunteer. We arrived at the session and disbursed ourselves throughout the room, each sitting at a different table, ready to lead our group when the time came.

God drew me to a table at the perimeter, specifically to one man at that table whose body language screamed a warning. When I asked if I could join them he scowled, though his female tablemates welcomed me.

As we waited for the session to begin, my efforts to connect with him met with failure. And each time I interacted with others at the table, he hijacked the conversation and made it about him. He craved attention and wanted to be in charge. In small group lingo we’d call him an EGR person (“extra grace required”). I wished I’d picked a different table.

My friend leading the session called the attendees to order and explained the procedure: how it worked, what we should do, and what not to do. Each table had a leader familiar with the practice, she explained, who would guide the attendees in following the process.

I’ve done this for several years and successfully guided many groups through this critiquing process. The man at our table objected to the prescribed process and wanted to do things a different way. Words were exchanged; heated barbs were thrown at me. He called me a dictator. I hope I responded in a way that would honor Jesus, but I’m not sure – only God knows.

Eventually the man calmed down, but the tension he caused remained, palpable and unrelenting. Though we went through the motions of the critique process, I doubt anyone gained from our efforts. We completed the assignment, and I left as soon as I could.

Hurt by the affliction of his words, I stewed about this for a couple of days. His emotional wounds had inflamed mine. Then God prompted me to consider why this man acted as he did. Writers call this the backstory. A different view of him surfaced; a bit of compassion emerged.

Instead of harboring ill will for this man, God told me to pray. I thought this was a once-and-done deal. But no, it is ongoing. Each time I think of this situation and the actions of this man, I am to pray for him. He has received many of my prayers in the past few days.

Yes, he has issues, but I have issues, too. We all have issues. God loves us despite our issues. We all need Jesus to save us – sometimes from ourselves.

Though this man is not my enemy (not really) and has not wronged me (not really), Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, Matthew 5:44. This, I realize, is how we need to respond to opposition.

Prayer for those who opposed us is Jesus’s solution to deal with conflict.

How to Hear From God

Supernatural conversations with the divine can happen – for those ready to listen

How to Hear From GodFor much of my life I believed what well-meaning people taught me. They said I could talk to God through prayer, and he would talk to me through the Bible. Though both methods provided one-way communication, when paired they effected dialogue – sort of.

They were right but they didn’t mention actual supernatural communication, the kind that happens in the Bible. While I believed this degree of interaction with the Almighty is possible and still happens today, I assumed it only materialized with select people and occurred in limited instances.

A friend who talks with God daily asked if I, too, wanted to hear directly from God on a regular basis.

I think it was a rhetorical question, but I said “yes” just to be sure. This is the advice he gave me to get started:

  • Block out an hour of time with no interruptions.
  • Ask God to speak to you and be ready to listen.
  • Jot a question on a piece a paper, and then verbally ask God that question.
  • Write down everything that comes to mind.

After thirty minutes I had three pages of notes and clear direction to deal with my question, but I wasn’t sure if those were God’s words or my thoughts.

I tried again a week later. This time I suspected some of what I wrote came directly from God. After more practice I was able to distinguish my thoughts from God’s words, which he places in my mind. Though I occasionally hear a few words aloud, mostly God plants his words in my mind.

Over time we began having conversations. We’ve been doing this for the past ten years. When I ask a question or share a thought, I generally hear from him right away – assuming I’m really ready to listen.

This is my experience, while others who talk to God have other experiences, but the point is having regular, genuine communication with God. It is possible, and it does happen today – even with ordinary followers of Jesus, like me.

Yes, God does speak to me through the Bible, but that’s not the only way.

Paul wrote to the Ephesian church that “the sword of the Spirit is the word of God,” Ephesians 6:17. Christians who have a limited view of Holy Spirit power in our world today think Paul means the written Word of God (even though the New Testament didn’t exist when Paul wrote those words). I think a better understanding is that the sword of the Spirit is the spoken word of God, courtesy of his Holy Spirit.

If you want to hear more from God, just ask – and then listen, really listen.

How does God speak to you? What can you do to hear more?

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Are You Spiritually Selfish?

We must concern ourselves with the physical and spiritual wellbeing of others and not focus on ourselves

Are You Spiritually Selfish?In Isaiah 39 we read a prophecy given to King Hezekiah by Isaiah.

This occurs after Hezekiah does something foolish. He graciously receives envoys from the powerful behemoth, Babylon. Not only does he show off his nation’s wealth, he also provides his enemies one more reason to invade his country. God is not pleased.

Though Hezekiah’s actions cause this prophecy, he will not suffer personally; his family will. When Babylon attacks, some of his descendants will be castrated and carted off to serve the king of Babylon.

While the predictions are horrific, Hezekiah’s reaction is pathetic.

Realizing he personally will not suffer, he accepts God’s decree. Hezekiah will enjoy peace; he will encounter no pain. True, others will not experience peace. Other people will undergo the consequences, including his own family. But the king doesn’t care. He thinks only of himself; he will be fine, and that’s all that matters.

Hezekiah is self-absorbed.

While peace and security are physical issues, there is a spiritual component at play here as well. Hezekiah does not confess his wrong actions. He does not ask God to change his mind. He does not intercede for his descendants and the turmoil they will endure because of his folly. He is spiritually selfish.

It’s easy to be spiritually self-centered. We are content with our standing in God and lose sight of the struggles others face, both physically and spiritually. We fail to pray for them; we don’t seek ways to help. Our life is good – or at least good enough – and we dismiss the suffering of others. And, like Hezekiah, we do this to our discredit and to their demise.

Following Jesus is not about our comfort; it’s about loving others in his name and pointing people to him.

Anything less is selfish spirituality.

What do you do to help people with their physical needs? What do you do to help people with their spiritual situation?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 39-41, and today’s post is on Isaiah 39:7-8.]

Is Our Relationship With God More Important Than Obedience?

The Old Testament Law talks a lot about offering sacrifices to God, but what if he really wants something more?

Is Our Relationship With God More Important Than Obedience?King Solomon writes in the book of Ecclesiastes that we need to be careful when approaching God. “Guard your steps,” he says. This is wise advice.

Then he adds something more: “Go near to listen.” He even places listening over offering God the prescribed sacrifices. Though the Old Testament Law gives many commands about offering God our sacrifices, I don’t recall one that tells us to listen. Yet Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, places listening to God over offering sacrifices to him.

Listening is about connecting. Solomon realizes God wants a relationship with us. He talks to us, and when we listen, we hear his voice, his words.

Communication with God isn’t a one-way street, with us just asking him (praying) for things. God can communicate to us, too, through the Bible and through his Holy Spirit, “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12, NIV) or his “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, KJV).

In Psalms we read we need to “be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10). That is the best way to listen to God. That’s what he wants from us: our ears, our attention, a relationship.

It starts when we listen.

How do you listen to God? How does God speak to you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ecclesiastes 4-6, and today’s post is on Ecclesiastes 5:1.]

Should We Confess the Sins of Our Nation?

Daniel reads the scriptures, fasts, and prays, confessing the sins of his people

Should We Confess the Sins of Our Nation?When I think of praying, confessing my faults to God is not the first thing that comes to mind. And when I am convicted of the need to admit to an errant act or a missed opportunity, I don’t linger there. I make it quick and then move on to more pleasant communication with my Maker, Savior, and Guide.

Basking in the spiritual reality of the almighty God is where I want to be. Acknowledging my faults to him is not nearly so much fun.

Personal confession is hard enough; corporate confession – admitting the faults of our community – is barely comprehensible to me. Yet that is exactly what Daniel does.

Daniel studies the prophecies in scripture. He sees that his people are receiving punishment for turning away from God. He reads the foretelling that their exile will last seventy years. That time is almost up.

Yet instead of thanking God that the allotted season of deportation is about over, Daniel is driven to contrition and fasting. He confesses the sins of his forefathers and countrymen. It’s as if he takes the sins of the nation upon his shoulders and confesses them to God: “We have sinned …”; “We have been wicked…”; “We have turned away…”; We have not listened…”; “We have not obeyed…”; “We have rebelled…”; and on he goes. Mixed in with his confession for his people is praise and affirmation to God.

In this Daniel, for whom the Bible records no sin, takes on the collective “we” to confess his nation’s faults. He doesn’t need to do this, but he does. Maybe we should do the same for our country.

How do you feel about personal confession? How do you feel about confessing the wrongs of our nation? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Daniel 7-9, and today’s post is on Daniel 9:1-19.]

Is Jesus Our Model For Masculinity?

Should we emulate the man who drove merchants from the temple and denounced hypocrisy?

Is Jesus Our Model For Masculinity?When I blogged about the need for a male role model I wondered if the life of Jesus might stand as an example for men to follow. Is he the perfect blend of godly power and God-intended masculinity?

Indeed the character and actions of Jesus is compelling, more gripping than any other. Here are the lessons we can learn from Jesus:

A Man of Action: Incensed over sacrilegious commerce being conducted in the temple, degrading worship and exploiting people, Jesus makes a whip and drives the merchants away. He scatters their money and overturns their tables; animals flee. He makes a real mess. Jesus takes bold action to confront wrong behavior (Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:15-17).

A Man of Strength: Jesus is physically strong, able to endure the barbaric tortures of crucifixion. Being flogged (Mark 15:15) was enough to kill some people; Jesus survives. He withstands the soldiers as they beat him (Luke 22:63-64) and carries his own cross (John 19:17). In this Jesus stands as our modern view of manly power.

A Man of Faith: Jesus prays (Luke 11:1) and fasts (Matthew 4:1-2). He places priority on his relationship with God.

A Man of Boldness: Not afraid to condemn misguided spiritual practices, Jesus speaks against hypocrisy (Matthew 12:34). His concern is righting spiritual wrongs, and he has no worries over offending religious leaders in error.

A Man of Spiritual Power: With supernatural insight Jesus knows what others are thinking (Luke 5:22), has command over nature (Mark 4:39), heals people (Matthew 4:23), and raises the dead (Luke 8:54-55).

A Man of Love and Compassion: Jesus blesses children (Matthew 19:13-14). He longs to love and protect them (Luke 13:34). He cares about the masses, offering compassion (Matthew 9:36) and loving them (Mark 10:21).

This is an impressive list, one truly worthy of emulation, yet Jesus is not our model for masculinity. Instead Jesus stands as a model for humanity, both men and women. Jesus is the ultimate paragon, our model of excellence and perfection, a peerless example.

Jesus is an example for all to follow, not just the guys.

Which of Jesus’s characteristics do you most identify with? Which ones seem aligned with one gender more than the other? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

How Often Do You Give Thanks to God?

How Often Do You Give Thanks to God?When Paul writes to the church in the city of Colossi, he says he always gives God thanks when he prays for them. He doesn’t just give God thanks for them occasionally but always. This is because of their faith in Jesus and their love for all God’s people – not some of them or the ones they agree with, but all of God’s people. Their faith and love stems from the hope they have in heaven because of Jesus (Colossians 1:3-5).

This is one of many of Paul’s references to prayers of thanksgiving he makes for other servants and followers of Jesus. See Ephesians 1:16, Philippians 1:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, and Philemon 1:4.

This gives me pause. Is my life one that would cause someone to give thanks to God? I fear not. Furthermore, when have I given thanks to God for the example of someone else’s life? Implicitly, perhaps, but I doubt if I’ve ever done so explicitly. I’m not sure which bothers me more: my failure in producing God-honoring actions or my forgetfulness in praying God-honoring thanks.

In even more general terms, how often do I thank God overall? Sometimes I remember to thank him for his blessings and provisions. Sometimes I remember to thank him for answered prayer. But it is much easier to persist in making requests, than to persist in giving thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What do you need to thank God for? Who has given you an example that you can give thanks to God? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Should We Avoid Vain Repetition When We Pray?

As a kid I took seriously the warning in the Bible to avoid vain repetitions when we pray. Even at a young age I knew that reciting a memorized prayer over and over did not impress God. In fact I suspected it sorely vexed him.

Given this I was highly critical of my church for spewing forth the Lord’s Prayer in rote unison each Sunday morning. I’d wag my head at their babbling. Though I’d participate, I hoped God knew that in my heart I didn’t go along with their repetition. Gee, don’t they read their Bible to know they’re not supposed to do this?

They so ingrained this habit in me that all someone needs to do is begin droning “Our Father…” and I’ll jump in without the slightest hesitation. The church has programmed me to perpetuate their vain repetition – even though I know I’m not supposed to.

So, then, it will surprise you to know that each morning I say the Prayer of Jabez:

“Oh, that You would bless me indeed,
and enlarge my territory,
that Your hand would be with me,
and that You would keep me from evil,
that I may not cause pain!” (NKJV)

Should We Avoid Vain Repetition When We Pray?But I don’t repeat this simple little prayer every morning because I think God needs to hear it again. With him, once is enough.

I say this prayer every morning because I need to hear it again. I need to remember what this prayer says and to consider ways that God has answered it in the past 24 hours – or what I may have done to thwart it.

Then when I have duly reminded myself, I add an addendum that often goes something like this: “Thank you God for hearing my prayer and answering it: in the past, in the present, and in the future.”

That’s a prayer worth repeating.

Do you see value in saying the Lord’s Prayer or Prayer of Jabez? If your church recites the Lord’s Prayer in unison each week, what do you think about it? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Matthew 6:7, 1 Chronicles 4:9-10]

Hold On To That Thought

Paul tells the church in Corinth to capture every thought and make it obedient to Jesus. Likewise, Proverbs advises us to guard our thoughts. (Some translations say to guard our hearts, putting a different twist on the same concept).

This is often hard to do – but not impossible.

Though I’m still working on it, my solution is to distract myself from wayward thoughts. When I remember to do this, they usually dissipate quickly. My distractions take two forms:

Quote the Bible: The first verse that comes to mind is in James: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” This is good advice to follow, but when I cite it, I end up focusing on what I’m trying to escape; it doesn’t help me control my thoughts.

Instead, my go to verse is from Revelation: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” This passage places my focus on God, praising him, worshiping him, and acknowledging his eternal existence.” The enemy doesn’t like that.

I end up reciting this verse just about every day, often multiple times.

Pray: Another way I distract myself from wrong thinking is to pray. The enemy doesn’t like that either. However, I don’t pray that I’ll stop thinking wrong thoughts or for strength to hold them captive; that also focuses my attention on what I’m trying to escape. Instead I pray for someone else.

Just as I have one predetermined verse, I have one predetermined person who I will automatically pray for when wrong thoughts beckon. This keeps me from wasting time, trying to determine who I should pray for and gets me to the praying part quickly.

Capturing every thought and subjecting it to Jesus is usually quite easy when I remember to cite scripture or pray. The key is remembering to do so.

[2 Corinthians 10:5, Proverbs 4:23, James 4:7, Revelation 4:8]