Do We Need to Rethink How We Pray?

Whether we pray often or seldom, we have likely fallen into unexamined habits

Do We Need to Rethink How We Pray?How do you begin your prayers?

What is your common salutation? It might be “Heavenly Father . . .” or perhaps “Father God . . . ” or maybe “Dear God . . . ”  (How about, “Hey, God. It’s me again.”) The Lord’s Prayer opens with “Our Father in heaven,” which is a good model to follow (Matthew 6:9). Some people open with “Dear Jesus . . . ” Have you ever addressed your prayers to the Holy Spirit? He is part of the triune God, after all.

When you finish praying, how do you conclude?

Some traditions end with “In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.” This aligns with what Jesus taught us (John 14:13). Other traditions take their cue from Matthew 28:19 and wrap up with “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.” Some use the shortcut of just “Amen.” (What about just saying “Bye” or “Catch you later,” which is how we talk to other people. Prayer, after all, is conversation.)

What does amen mean, anyway?

The Amplified Bible suggests it implies “So be it” or May it be so.” Saying one of these declarations to end our prayers may get us out of the rut of concluding with a rote “Amen,” but it usually confounds anyone listening to us.

And what should we say in the middle portion of our prayers?

Sometimes I direct my communications with God to specific parts of the godhead according to the character or role of each. For example, I can praise Father for creating me, Jesus for saving me, and Holy Spirit for guiding me. Or I can ask Papa to bless me, the Son to be with me, and the Spirit to inspire me. Doing this helps me see God in fresh, new ways; it enables me to better connect and be more real in my communications with God.

But what if I error and address the wrong aspect of God? It’s happened, but I don’t think it matters to God because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same God, the great three in one (consider 1 John 5:7).

The point is to stop praying words out of habit and think about why we say what we say when we talk to God. He deserves our full attention, so we should avoid using thoughtless words.

So be it.

The Bible Shows Us the Holy Spirit

The New Testament Centers on Jesus, but the Holy Spirit Emerges as Key in the Book of Acts

The Bible Shows Us the Holy SpiritWe’ve talked about how the Bible Reveals God the Father to Us and how the Bible Points Us to Jesus. The Holy Spirit forms the third part of the Trinity, the supernatural mystery of three spiritual deities in one package. Though the Bible doesn’t mention the word Trinity, most all Christians accept the concept of a triune God, albeit with variations of understanding.

The Holy Spirit emerges as the star of the church, guiding the followers of Jesus into a fuller understanding of him and showing them how to live their faith in a way pleasing to him. The book of Acts, the record of the early church, serves as a descriptor of how the church functions with the Holy Spirit at the helm.

Acts contains nearly one hundred references to the Holy Spirit. In fact Acts talks about the Holy Spirit more than it mentions Jesus. While Acts should serve as our practical guidebook to community and faith through Holy Spirit power, most followers of Jesus diminish or even dismiss him as part of our spiritual heritage and present experience.

But the Bible doesn’t relegate the Holy Spirit to the book of Acts. He shows up, by name, in all the Gospels and a majority of the books in the New Testament. The phrase “Holy Spirit” is even in the Old Testament, though “Spirit of God” is more common. The simpler label of “Spirit” occurs in about half of the Old Testament books and all of the New Testament books, except for 2 and 3 John.

In the beginning we see the Holy Spirit taking part in creation to form our reality (Genesis 1:2). In the end of time the Holy Spirit serves as the central player while God wraps up our physical existence, reality as we know it (Revelation 22:17). Clearly the Holy Spirit moves throughout the entire Bible, just as he moves through the church of Jesus and in the lives of his followers today – or at least how he should move, if only we will let him.

The Bible Tells the Church to Meet Together, Worship, and Witness

How can we go and be witnesses for Jesus when we sequester ourselves on Sunday mornings?

The Bible Tells the Church to Meet Together, Worship, and WitnessJust before Jesus leaves this world to return to heaven, he instructs his followers to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). In an expanded version of this incident, Jesus tells his followers to wait for Holy Spirit power and then be his witnesses, both near and far (Acts 1:4-9).

The church of Jesus doesn’t do a good job of being witnesses and making disciples. To do so requires an outward perspective, yet most all churches have an inward focus: they care for their own to the peril of outsiders, with many churches excelling in doing so.

Yes, God values community and wants us to meet together (Hebrews 10:25). And the Bible is packed with commands and examples of worshipping God, with Jesus noting that “true worshipers” will worship God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

Most churches do the meeting together part reasonably well, albeit with varying degrees of success. Many of those churches have a time of worship as they meet together, though perhaps not always “in the Spirit” or even “in truth.”

Yet few churches look outside their walls in order to go into their community to witness and make disciples. Though Jesus said to wait for the Holy Spirit, he didn’t say to wait for people to come to us, to come to our churches so we could witness and disciple them. No, we are supposed to leave our church buildings to take this work to them. We can’t do that at church on Sunday morning, safely snug behind closed doors.

Yes there is a time to come together and a time to worship, but there is also a time to go. And we need to give more attention to the going part.

I know of two churches that have sent their congregations out into their community on Sunday mornings, foregoing the church service in order to be a church that serves. One church did it a few times and stopped after they saw little results and received much grumbling. The other church regularly plans this a few times each year and garners a positive influence on their community.

Shouldn’t every church make a positive impact on their community? Yet so few do. They are too busy meeting together and worshiping.

In terms of witnessing and making disciples, what would Jesus think of your church’s activities? What should you do to go into your community?

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?


We Should Be Like Jesus

To discover WWJD (what would Jesus do) we need only look at what the Bible says

We Should Be Like JesusJesus goes to the synagogue in his hometown to worship God with his family and friends. It’s his turn to read scripture and the day’s scheduled passage is from Isaiah; it’s a prophecy – about Jesus. After he reads it, Jesus simply confirms that he fulfills this prophecy (Luke 4:16-21.)

In the section Jesus reads, Isaiah prophetically tells the people that the coming savior will move in Holy Spirit power to:

  • proclaim good news to the poor
  • bind up the brokenhearted
  • proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners
  • proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God
  • comfort all who mourn
  • provide for those who grieve in Zion
  • bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes

This is essentially Jesus’s job description: to speak truth to those who are seeking, provide help to those in need, and give hope to those who hurt. As his followers we should do the same. Though it will take a lifetime to put these things into practice, this is why God leaves us here on earth and what we should do with our time here. It starts with the Holy Spirit.

If we love Jesus we need to do what he would do, starting today.

How can you put these things into practice? In practical terms, how can you implement one of these actions?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 61-63, and today’s post is on Isaiah 61:1-3.]

Can I Pray For You?

We never know who has a deep need for prayer and how much our words could mean

Can I Pray For You?I volunteer at a parachurch organization that helps people in need and shows them the love of Jesus. After the participants had left, I poked my head into a classroom to wave goodbye to one of the leaders. Not her usual happy self, I stepped in and asked how things had gone.

She had a rough session that morning. Discouragement spilled forth as she shared the ordeal. One of the couples had opened up, revealing more of their situation than they had ever shared with anyone else in the program. Though skilled at what she does, with lots of experience dealing with participants’ struggles and years of life’s wisdom on top of that, she was at a loss. Their circumstance seemed unresolvable, a hopeful solution, illusive. She didn’t know how to guide them. Overwhelmed, their burden weighed heavy on her usually capable shoulders. As she shared their condition, I, too, felt the gravity of the situation and saw no way to help.

Can I pray for you? I asked.

“Sure,” she answered with little enthusiasm. “Prayer would be good.” Then she continued gathering her things.

I hadn’t communicated clearly. I tried again. “May I pray for you now?”

Her eyes brightened. “Yes!” A hint of her usual smile returned. “I’d really like that.”

Despite her eagerness, I sensed a bit of discomfort, too. I didn’t know enough of her faith practices to understand how she expected this to occur. Some people become unnerved with direct one-on-one prayer. One man shuddered at the idea of me actually praying out loud for him and asked that I do so silently.

I awkwardly extended my hand. Unsure, one of her hands met mine. As I thanked God for her tender heart, her other hand joined in. She clasped my hand tightly. Her grip grew more firm as my prayer unfolded.

I prayed the words the Holy Spirit gave me. When I said them all, I knew not to add any of my own. What had been said was all that was needed. “Amen.”

She opened her now misty eyes, and the rest of her smile returned.

“Thank you,” she said with sincerity. “It’s been a long time since someone has prayed for me.”

I was glad I was the one to end the drought and, at the same time, sad that there was one in the first place. This woman is a regular attendee at her church, a senior saint, a pillar. Yet people in her community had not been praying for her, at least not out loud and in her presence.

Instead of being proud for my actions, I was resolute. I pledged to be more intentional in praying for others, to make sure those in my circles don’t have the same lament.

How can you expand your prayer practices to intercede for others? Is God calling you to be more intentional? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Do You Hear From God?

Under Holy Spirit inspiration Simeon and Anna affirm Jesus when he is a baby

Shortly after Jesus is born his parents take him to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to God and go through the purification rites as prescribed by Moses. As they do so, they receive two startling surprises from what others say about Jesus.

Do You Hear From God?First is Simeon, a godly man full of the Holy Spirit. He lives in expectation of the promised savior. God assures Simeon he will live long enough to witness the coming Messiah. Prompted by the Holy Spirit Simeon goes to the temple, takes Jesus in his arms, and praises God for what Jesus will do.

Next is Anna, an elderly woman and prophetess. A devote widow, she spends her time worshiping God. She walks up and thanks God for Jesus, confirming he is the fulfillment of prophecy.

Note that neither Simeon nor Anna are part of the religious elite. They lack the pedigree and the man-made credentials to do what they did. But they do have Holy Spirit wisdom, and that’s all that God needs in order to use them – and us – to accomplish his purposes: no special training or insider connections, just people who put God first and focus on him.

When has God prompted you to go somewhere like he did with Simeon? When has God given you supernatural words of the future to share with others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 1-3, and today’s post is on Luke 2:22-40.]

Does God Ever Change?

The God of the Old Testament seems different than in the New

The book of Hebrews says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And since Jesus is God (John 1:1), doesn’t that mean the God never changes? That’s what I’ve been taught. That’s what this verse in Hebrews seems to say.

Yet as I read my Bible the God in the Old Testament comes across as a God of judgement while the God in the New Testament is all about grace. We fear Old Testament God and love New Testament God. Perhaps fear and love are opposite sides of the same coin. Yes, we do see God’s love in the midst of Old Testament fear and have reason to fear God among his New Testament love, yet neither is the prevailing thought.

But I see even more differences than just Old Testament versus New Testament archetypes of God.

Does God Ever Change?In the Garden of Eden God walks with Adam and Eve; they enjoy community with each other. Then Adam and Eve sin: banishment, judgement, separation; God is distant. The God of Abraham and Job seems hard to understand, yet emerges as patient despite his clear sovereignty. To Moses God shows relationship, power, and a grand plan. In the era of Judges God seems mostly uninvolved as his people flounder. After they demand a king, much to God’s dismay, he actually seems more present, more involved in the United Kingdom under the rules of Saul, David, and Solomon. Next is the time of the prophets: warnings, short-term repentance, and eventual judgement; God offers much patience before exacting his punishment. And if we read the Apocrypha we see God as involved but ethereal – compelling, yet a bit aloof.

In the New Testament we see God as love through Jesus in the Gospels. Then we see God as power through the Holy Spirit in Acts through Revelations.

Depending on which section of the Bible I’m reading, God seems different, like he’s evolving over time. Of course I like the New Testament manifestations better and see Holy Spirit power as the most relevant understanding of God for our world and the church today.

Yet the Bible says God doesn’t change; he is the same. I think that’s right: God doesn’t change, but how he relates to us does.

How do you perceive God? What characteristic of God do you like best? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Do You Have a Spiritual Mentor?

Everyone needs someone to help him or her navigate the throes of life. As John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire to itself.” In truth, we cannot survive alone. We need others to walk along side of us. Every one needs help at some time, whether we admit it or not.

Do You Have a Spiritual Mentor?Such is the case in spiritual matters. We all need a mentor, a spiritual mentor.

A spiritual mentor can guide us, offering direction when we need it and challenging us when we think everything is fine. If we expect to grow in our faith and then put it into action, we need a mentor to direct us.

Mentoring can take various forms.

Mentors can approach us through books, instructing us from a distance, even over time. Biographies about people of faith can mentor us, as can the books they wrote and the things they taught. If they mentor us from the past we cannot ask questions. Even our contemporary mentors are often far enough removed that individual queries are not feasible. Unfortunately their mentorship is a monologue. Seldom can we engage in a dialogue with these mentors.

The Bible is a significant source of mentoring: from God – through his followers – and by God – through his Holy Spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit can be a powerful mentor, if we are able to hear his voice and follow his direction.

Many people claim their pastor as a mentor, but this has many shortcomings. First mentoring from the pulpit is a one-to-many arrangement; interaction – just as with books – isn’t feasible in this format. And to expect your pastor to meet with every person one-on-one would leave no time for him or her to do anything else. Do the math and you’ll see. Besides most people already heap too many expectations on their ministers; to assume they can do one-on-one mentoring to the entire congregation isn’t realistic.

This means we need to find our own mentors. We can mentor one another. We should mentor one another.

Seek someone you can mentor and be available for someone to mentor you. You can even co-mentor one another. When one of you stumbles, the other can pick you up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Perhaps that’s why Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs (Luke 10:1).

Do you have a spiritual mentor? Are you a mentor to others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

What is the Spirit of Jesus?

What is the Spirit of Jesus?Paul uses a curious phrase in his letter to the Philippian church. He talks about “the Spirit of Jesus.” Paul writes of his confidence that he will realize deliverance because of the Philippian church’s prayers and the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

In another place Doctor Luke writes in Acts that as Paul travels to tell others about Jesus he tries to enter Bithynia but the Spirit of Jesus does not allow him to. Only two places in the Bible use this descriptive phrase “the Spirit of Jesus.”

Are they talking about Jesus or about the Holy Spirit? Does the distinction really matter? After all Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both just different expressions of the same God.

Christianity is a monotheistic religion; we worship and serve one God. Yet people on the outside often perceive of Christianity as polytheistic (or tritheistic). This is because of our constant references to three parts of God as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. While it’s sometimes beneficial to separately consider these three aspects of God, we must not lose sight of him being one God.

Some people may find it critical to determine if the Spirit of Jesus actually refers to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit. Yet this is a matter of semantics. The answer doesn’t really matter, for the Spirit of Jesus is simply God. The Spirit of Jesus who delivers Paul and guides his path can also deliver and guide us. The details don’t matter.

How do you understand the Spirit of Jesus? Which of the three parts of God do you most identify with? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Philippians 1:19, Acts 16:7]