Tag Archives: pray

Ask God to Go with Us

God Promises to Go Before His People and Be Their Rear Guard

Ask God to Go with UsIn Isaiah’s lengthy prophecy, he tells God’s people in Jerusalem that they need to leave. However, they don’t need to leave in haste. This is because God will go before them and he will take up the rear. That means, God will pave the way and he has their back. That’s so comforting. However, this promise is to God’s people in Jerusalem. Does it apply to us today?

Yes and no.

Since Isaiah specifically gives this prophecy and its promise to the people in Jerusalem, we would take it out of context to apply it to us today. We would be wrong to read this passage and automatically conclude that God will always go before us and watch our back. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t do this. For God to travel with us, going before us on our path to pave the way and guarding us from a rear attack, we need to ask God to do this.

Instead of Claiming a Comforting Verse, Ask God for It

Since God promised to do this for his people in Jerusalem, this idea of him going before and bringing up the rear isn’t unprecedented. If he took care of them then, he’ll likely take care of us today. But we can’t claim this verse as our own. It doesn’t apply to us. Instead we must pray it. We must ask God to go before us to prepare the path for our journey. And we must ask God to follow behind us, to protect us from surprise attacks that might catch us off guard. Just because we see a comforting verse in the Bible doesn’t mean it automatically applies to us today. Click To Tweet

We should keep this principle in mind as we read the Bible. Just because we see a comforting verse doesn’t mean it automatically applies to us today. We’d be in error to claim it as our own when it belongs to someone else. However, we can certainly seek God’s provision and ask him to apply it to us today. After all, if he did it for his people once, there’s a good chance he’ll do it for us again.

[Read through the Old Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 51-52, and today’s post is on Isaiah 52:12.]

We Need To Pray For Those In Power Over Us

The Bible reminds us to pray for those in authority, which includes our politicians

In Paul’s first letter to his protégé Timothy, he adds an important command. We can likewise apply Paul’s wise instruction as something for us to follow today. He tells us we are to pray for those in authority. This includes our elected officials, from the highest position to the local ones.Pray for those in authority, even politicians you don’t like.

Though I remember to pray for family and friends on a regular basis, I usually neglect to pray for people in positions of authority. And to be painfully blunt, even when I remember to do this, there are some politicians I simply don’t want to pray for. I should push past that and pray for them anyway, but often I don’t.

When we consider how to pray for our elected officials, Paul breaks it down. He says to make petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving. This is a curious string of words.

Thanksgiving is something I understand. It’s just that I’m not always so thankful for those in elected positions. Too often I don’t respect them or even like them. This makes it hard for me to be thankful, even though I should.

Intersession and petition are about the same thing. Intersession is intervening in prayer on behalf of another. Contrast this to petition, which carries the idea of a solemn entreaty.

Prayer seems to encompass all three—thanksgiving, intersession, and petitions—yet the text lists prayer separately. Of course, with prayer we expressly realize that we direct our thanksgiving, intersession, and petitions to God. Despite the actions, ideals, and character of those in authority, God is the ultimate authority. Click To Tweet

This focus on God serves to remind us that regardless of the actions, beliefs, and character of those in authority that God is the ultimate authority. He’s in charge. And as the one who’s ultimately in charge, we need to pray to him about all the authorities who are under him.

May we do just that. Let’s start today. Join me in prayer.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 Timothy 2, and today’s post is on 1 Timothy 2:1-2.]

Discover the Will of God

Discerning the will of God isn’t hard; the Bible is clear what we are to do

As Paul wraps up his first letter to the Thessalonian church, he slips in three quick instructions. These concise commands seem like soundbites. And once he delivers them, he concludes that doing these things is the will of God for all those who follow Jesus.

What?Rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all things

We all want to know what the will of God is and often struggle to figure it out. Yet the Bible tells us the answer most clearly:

Rejoice Always: To rejoice means to be delighted or to feel joyful. An old definition of rejoice means “to fill with joy.” That understanding is more helpful in getting at the intention of this instruction. To fill with joy gives us a nice word picture of what it means to rejoice always.

We all know people whose lives are marked with joy. We also know grouches who live in a continual state of complaining. Those people exist outside the will of God, at least that’s what Paul says in the Bible. Instead, God’s will for us, all of us who follow Jesus, is to rejoice always.

Pray Continually: Next Paul tells us to pray continually. I wonder if he means for us to be in nonstop prayer throughout the day or if the word continually is hyperbole to make his point and get our attention.

Some days it seems that God is an afterthought. I hardly pray, if at all, let alone continually. But for other days, though not nearly as many as I would like, God is at the forefront of my mind in most all that I do. I’m aware of his presence, and we go through the day together, in a state of near constant communication. This could be what Paul means when he says to pray continually. And it is God’s will for us to do so. That’s what the Bible says. The third aspect of doing God’s will is to show thankfulness in all situations. Click To Tweet

Give Thanks In All Circumstances: The third aspect of doing God’s will is to show thankfulness in all situations. Sometimes this is challenging. Yet even when the worst happens, there’s usually something to be thankful for. It takes practice to develop the skill to see things in every context that we can appreciate. However, since it’s God’s will for us to give thanks in every circumstance, we must develop this skill. As the prior instruction tells us, this is something we can pray about.

It’s God’s desire for those of us who follow Jesus to rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all things. We need to remember this the next time we worry about discerning God’s will for our life.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 Thessalonians 5, and today’s post is on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.]

How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?

Through Jesus we can discover our response to violence and oppression

How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?Seldom a day goes by when we don’t hear of terrorists who commit violence and murder in the name of their faith. These religious zealots believe a higher calling gives them the right to kill others in order to elevate their beliefs.

This seems barbaric, ignorant, and misguided. We, as followers of Jesus, would never do that. But Christians have. In the name of religion they killed. And we only need look at the Old Testament for a precedence that seems to give permission.

Old Testament Violence

As the nation of Israel leaves Egypt and comes to reclaim the territory God gave them, he tells them to annihilate the inhabiting people, to utterly destroy them and their pagan practices. As I read these accounts in the Old Testament, I struggle with the violence I encounter. I don’t get it. It doesn’t seem justified, and it’s not fair.

Yet, I see four things that somewhat help me reconcile the violence we read about in the Old Testament.

It Was Specific: God does not give a universal command for his people to kill all their enemies, regardless of geography or situation. He directs this instruction only at the people living in the Promised Land, occupying the territory he gave his people. To apply this to any other circumstances is inappropriate and a misuse of scripture.

It Was For One Season: God’s command to wipe out the inhabiting peoples only applies to one period of time: as his people take back the territory he gave them. He never says this instruction to kill and destroy applies for all time or extends indefinitely into the future.

It Was an Anomaly: In a general command, one without limits, God tells his people to treat the foreigners living among them as one of them, as native born (Leviticus 19:34). This is far different than his one-time instruction to kill.

It Was Fulfilled: Even if we disregard that the command to kill was specific and for a limited time, remember that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17). It is over, in the past. The old ways are gone.

Still, these seem to me as poor justifications for the Israelites to kill. Though I’m content to accept God as sovereign and freely admit that I can’t begin to understand him or his ways, I still struggle with the Old Testament’s slaughter of people. (By the way, it’s hard to convert people to your way of thinking when they’re dead.)God says we are to love our enemies, pray for them, and live in peace. Click To Tweet

New Testament Nonviolence

I am, however, comforted by the New Testament, which doesn’t perpetuate God’s people inflicting violence on others. I’m encouraged by what Jesus and his followers say to counter the Old Testament’s accounts of violence:

Love Your Enemies: Jesus says we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). When we love people, we want the best for them. Check out 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 for details of what love entails.

Pray For Those Who Persecute You: Right after Jesus commands us to love our enemies, he adds that we should pray for those who intend us harm (Matthew 5:44). By the way, this includes the terrorists who today kill people in the name of their religion.

I’ve never thought to do that until right now. It’s going to be hard. Will you join me?

Live in Peace: Paul writes to the followers of Jesus who live in Rome, instructing them to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). In the book of Hebrews we read the same thing, along with the kicker to be holy as we do (Hebrews 12:14). Our holiness points others to God, allowing them to see him for who he is.

Though the violence in the Old Testament perplexes me, what applies to us today comes from the New Testament: Love our enemies, pray for those who intend us harm, and strive to live in peace with everyone.

That is how we are to respond to the violence around us today.

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.We need to keep praying and not give up until we receive our answer. Click To Tweet

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.Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Click To Tweet

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.

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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.The Holy Spirit gives us the spoken words of God. Click To Tweet

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. We ignore the needs of others – to our discredit and their demise. Click To Tweet

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.A deeper relationship with God starts when we listen to him. Click To Tweet

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?

[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 the Bible Daniel confesses the sins of his countrymen. Should we do the same today? Click To Tweet

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?

[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.]