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Bible Insights

Does God Accept Your Prayers?

Job Prays for His Misguided Friends Who Criticize Him, and God Accepts His Prayers

The book of Job is dialogue sandwiched between the story’s prelude and epilogue. The prelude, or premise, is that Job will remain devout to God regardless of how Satan might afflict him (Job 1-2).

In the epilogue, or conclusion, God repudiates the assertions of Job’s friends, affirms Job, and blesses him twofold (Job 42:7-16).

The intervening verses present chapter-long discourses from Job’s friends and Job’s equally long rebuttals. Then God speaks (Job 40:6-41:34). The story could end there, with God having the final word.

Instead God deals with our story’s main characters, too. He’s mad at three of Job’s friends, his primary detractors. (The fourth friend escapes mention, receiving neither criticism nor affirmation.) God instructs the trio to offer a sacrifice in Job’s presence.

Then Job will pray for them. When he does, God will accept Job’s intercession for these men and not punish them, as they deserve (Job 42:7-9).

Notice that God does not command Job to pray. What if Job decides he won’t intercede for his friends? After how they’ve failed to support him, he would be justified in snubbing them and letting God deal with them as they deserve.

Yet God knows Job. He knows Job’s heart. He knows Job will pray for these men even though they let him down.

May our hearts be so attuned to God that he will say 'yes' before we even say 'please.' Click To Tweet

And God says he will accept Job’s prayer.

Before Job even utters the words, God decides to honor what his follower will pray. What an affirmation of Job’s godly character and God’s esteem for him.

Imagine God saying that about you or me. Knowing our overall character, he acknowledges he will answer our prayers before we say one word.

May our relationship with God be like Job’s, with hearts so attuned to God that he will say “yes” before we even say “please.”

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Job 40-42, and today’s post is on Job 42:7-9.]

Discover more about Job in Peter’s book I Hope in Him: 40 Insights about Moving from Despair to Deliverance through the Life of Job. In it, we compare the text of Job to a modern screenplay.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

Each Day We Must Seek God for the Provisions We Need

Asking God to supply us with our daily bread at one time mystified me. It seemed like a vain repetition (Matthew 6:7) for something that didn’t matter to me. Yet when I learned the context of this request, it made sense.

Two thousand years ago many people struggled with food scarcity. Having enough to eat was a daily concern.

Asking God to provide us with the bread we need each day is, therefore, a request for what we need to live. And it’s a reminder to depend on him to take care of us.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray in this way (Matthew 6:9-13). It’s a model for us to guide our daily prayers. One of my daily practices is to recite this passage and then pray it in my own words.

To keep this prayer from becoming a rote exercise, I strive to vary my wording and to contemplate each phrase as I make my request.

My version of “give us today our daily bread” became something like “God, give us today what we need to live.”

As I begin thinking about praying for our daily bread in this way, I developed an image of what that request meant. It evolved over time and eventually became an incorrect perspective of seeking God’s daily provisions for our lives.

Though this took place over several years, I got to a point where when I asked God to give us today our daily bread, I envisioned an old stingy man, wearing a dingy gray robe, handing me one small piece of bread and a tiny cup of water.

This was the basic provision I needed to stay alive. And that was what he was giving me.

Yet God is not stingy.

He wants to supply us extravagantly with what we need, with what we ask for. James reminds us that we have not because we ask not (James 4:2).

I desperately needed to change my perspective of what it meant when it came to God supplying me with my daily bread.

My Daily Bread

To reform my view, I begin to envision God in a grand storehouse of provisions, one heaped high with every possible thing I could need. He stands in this vast warehouse of supplies he’s prepared for me and my family.

Wearing a royal robe and impressive gold crown, he sports a broad smile. He stretches his arms wide in a grand display of generosity. It’s all there for me. He’s already prepared what I need for my day, and it’s in stock, ready for me in a moment. All I need to do is ask.

“God, give us today what we need to live, to thrive, and to accomplish your call on our lives.” Click To Tweet

So instead of saying something like “God, give us today what we need to live,” I updated my wording.

Envisioning his grand stockpile of what he’s prepared for me, I expectantly say something like “God, give us today what we need to live . . . and to thrive . . . and to accomplish your call on our lives.”

That’s what I ask for, and that’s what I receive.

And just like the Israelites gathering their manna—their daily bread—each day (Exodus 16:14-31), I, too, make this request of God each morning.

It would be foolish for me not to.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Submit to God and Resist the Devil

James offers a solution to those who face disappointment with their life

I like the words of James in the Bible. His concise writing packs a lot of practical teaching into five succinct chapters. In chapter four he opens with a string of negative outcomes that often plague people.

He lists fights, quarrels, envy, covetousness, and the kicker of all disappointments: unanswered prayers. Ouch.

Why do we suffer from such things? The cause is spiritual adultery, of being so friendly with worldly pursuits that we become estranged from God. Double ouch. God wants our full attention, undivided.

What’s the solution? James’s two-part answer, both direct and succinct, says to submit to God and resist the devil. But are these dual initiatives for us to pursue or opposite sides of the same coin? By submitting to God do we automatically become empowered to resist evil?

Perhaps by turning our back to sin, we effectively submit to God. Yet it matters not if we resist first, submit first, or do both. The main thrust of James’s instruction is to effectively focus our actions on God and turn from worldly pursuits.

Submission is not a popular concept in today’s society. Neither is resisting temptation. With our self-sufficient, do-it-myself mindset, no one wants to acquiesce to another, to defer our desires to another person’s wellbeing.

Yet the Bible teaches us to do just that. James says to submit to God. So does Job (Job 22:21), as well as the wisdom literature (Psalms 81:11 and Proverbs 3:6).

Plus Peter tells us to submit to the elders (1 Peter 5:5), and Paul teaches us to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21) and to authorities (Romans 13:5). And there is more.

The Bible teaches us to submit to God and others. Click To Tweet

How do we do this submitting to God and resisting the devil? James says we need to be close to God, wash our hands (figuratively speaking), purify our hearts, repent (grieve, mourn, and wail), and humbly approach God. Then he will lift us up.

Implicitly our disagreements will cease, our materialism will end, and we will enjoy answered prayer. It starts when we submit to God and resist temptation.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is James 4-5, and today’s post is on James 4:1-10.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

A Different Prescription For Prayer

A Parable about Prayer

In Matthew 20, Jesus shares a parable, predicts his death, and teaches about serving. He also heals two blind men. Nowhere in this chapter does he mention prayer, yet in this passage I see two insights about prayer. It’s a different prescription for prayer, and we will do well to follow it.

First, the mother of James and John makes a request of Jesus. She asks if her sons can be given places of honor, sitting on Jesus’ left and right. Jesus’ response is, “You don’t know what you are asking!”

I suspect that many of our prayers evoke the same response, “You don’t know what you are asking.”

Just as James and John’s mother did not have a right understanding of Jesus’ purpose and intent, missing God’s perspective, so to, we often miss God’s intent and fail to see his perspective.

As such our prayers are off base, asking for the wrong things, which are inconsequential.

How often do we make a vague request for God's blessing, mercy, or grace? Click To Tweet

In the account of the blind men being healed, the men boldly call out for Jesus to have mercy on them. When Jesus hears them, he asks, “What do you want?” They have already asked for mercy, but Jesus wants them to be specific.  As soon as they ask to see, he gives them their sight.

How often do we make a general request for God’s blessing, mercy, or grace? These are vague, non-expectant petitions. When making such a plea, how can we ever realize the answers? When our requests are specific, the answers become obvious—and praiseworthy.

So, when we pray, it should be specific and it should be with God’s perspective in mind. This is a different prescription for prayer.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 20-22, and today’s post is on Matthew 20:20-22 and Matthew 20:29-34.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

Discussion Questions for Church 56: A New Approach to Church

During 52 Churches, two churches planned to simultaneously shut down for a few months and then reopen as a new, merged entity. But it took much longer. At last we can visit. I call this process a reboot. Others might call it a church launch. Regardless, it’s new approach to church.

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 56 and their new approach to church.

The large parking lot has ample room. People mill about outside, including two greeters, bantering with all who pass. One opens the door for us. What initial impression does our church make when people arrive?

I’ve been in this building before. Gone are the pews, organ, and formal elements. In their place are padded chairs and a contemporary altar. What once approached stodgy is now chic. Subdued lighting adds to the allure. What is our sanctuary’s ambience? What should change?

Communion is open to “anyone who acknowledges Jesus Christ as the risen Savior.” Children are welcome to take part, too, as determined by their parents or caregivers. How well does our church convey Communion expectations?

It’s Mother’s Day, and they distribute carnations to every female, “honoring all women.” This nicely avoids the risk of inadvertently disregarding those who desperately long to be moms but aren’t, can’t, or once were. What changes should our churches make to be more inclusive?

The children come forward for a blessing. The pastor says, “Let’s talk to Jesus.” I appreciate his simple, kid-appropriate reminder of what prayer is. What can we do to keep our faith practices fresh?

The minister says, “Giving is an act of worship.” As a teen I assumed this was a euphemism for “give us your money.” Now it clicks with me. How can we better connect our giving with our worship?

Despite updates to the sanctuary, the service unfolds like most others. They merely house typical expectations in a new package. Are our church’s attempts to be relevant mere show or significant?

Overall, I enjoyed their new approach to church and can learn much from it.

[Read about Church 56, Church 57, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

Church #55: New and Small

One of our goals in 52 Churches was to visit all ten churches located in our local school district. After 52 Churches ended, that number increased to eleven.

The primary marketing for this new church is yard signs, spread throughout the area, suggesting a different kind of church. We make a mental note to visit.

With another last-minute opening in our schedule, we have an opportunity to go there, but we can’t remember their name—and the yard signs are gone.

Tracking Them Down

After some extensive online searching—investing much more time than any typical visitor would do—I stumble upon their name and find their Facebook page, but I can’t locate a website. 

Their Facebook page contains recent updates, but they don’t mention service times or a schedule beyond their first two meetings several months ago.

Now armed with their name, my wife, cyber sleuth Candy finds their website, which confirms their schedule and service time. They call themselves nondenominational, but their website describes a church that fits snugly within the evangelical stream of Christianity. 

As an aside, I suspect most nondenominational churches are evangelical in function, since I’ve never been to one that wasn’t. It’s possible, however, for a church to include all three streams of Christianity.

The service at Church #19 (“A Near Miss”) seemed to embrace equal parts of traditional, evangelical, and charismatic churches.

Even though they were part of a denomination (albeit a very loose one), their service felt the most nondenominational of any I’ve ever attended. They exemplified what I think nondenominational should be: open to anyone and everyone, without leaning toward a denomination or stream of Christianity. 

A Wintery Drive to Church

We head out early. A winter storm blankets everything with a layer of ice. Several churches cancelled services, but we don’t think to check if this one has.

I pick a route that will be more traveled and hopefully less treacherous. Even these roads are slippery, and we shouldn’t be out. Passing an accident confirms the folly of our adventure. The drive takes twice as long as normal. 

The church is in a small strip mall. With only a couple of cars in the parking lot, I wonder if they, too, cancelled services. Supporting my suspicion, I don’t see any lights or movement inside.

Our Welcome

The parking lot is even more icy than the roads. As we exit our car, a man calls out to be careful. With much concern, we inch our way toward him.

He introduces himself and doesn’t bother to ask if we’re visitors. He knows. With the weather, he expects low attendance and says they only have half of their worship team. Inwardly, I sigh. It seems that too often we show up when churches don’t have one of their typical services.

Encouraged by the engaging welcome, we head inside. A guy in the sound booth looks up and comes over to talk. He looks familiar and says the same to me. My bride notices he’s wearing a clip-on mic and asks if he’s the pastor. I wonder the same. He says, “Yes.”

We’ve been at a church service in this space before. A couple of years prior to 52 Churches, we visited Church #15 (“An Outlier Congregation”) here. They since moved and changed pastors, which resulted in a much different experience for our 52 Churches visit.

Today the room feels bigger than that visit several years ago. I suspect the prior church had one space in the mall, with the present configuration using two. They have 144 padded chairs, aligned in long rows.

With only twelve people present, the vastness of the space makes our numbers feel even less. We’re the oldest people there, with kids, teens, and younger adults all represented.

Even though we walked in two minutes late, we have time to talk with several people before the service. They finally start about fifteen minutes later. I’m not sure if beginning late is their norm or if they’re allowing more time for people to arrive.

As it turns out, it doesn’t matter. We are the last to show up.

The Service

Today’s worship leader normally plays drums, but today he fills in as worship leader for his older brother, who is working. He also plays guitar. Another guitarist and bassist join him. The drum kit sits idle. His leading is confident, though not polished.

I’ve been to services where the worship team is so rehearsed that I feel I’m at a concert and miss worshiping God. The opposite is well-intentioned people who shouldn’t be leading music. Their efforts unfold as a painful ordeal, repelling me from God.

Today, we hit that ideal place between the two extremes. At least it’s ideal for me. We sing several current worship songs, which draw me to God.

Then they have a time of sharing. When churches do this, I often wonder why. One of three patterns usually emerges: 

They call attention to the person sharing, as in “I just bought a new Lexis. Pray that my BMW sells so I can give money to the mission.”

Or it borders on gossip, as in “My brother-in-law didn’t come home again last night. My sister might file for divorce and seek full custody of the kids.”

Third is a wish list to God, as in “Pray for a new job, a good-paying job, one where the boss treats employees with respect, and a new car to get me to work, suitable work clothes, and money for . . . ” 

Yeah, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not too much. 

Not so at this church. They share well. My first hint of this is tissue boxes scattered throughout the room. Certainly, people shed tears here. My assumption proves correct. When the first two people share, both end up crying as they reveal the angst of their heart.

Their words are not just a lament but also a testimony, teaching and encouraging others. 

They remind me of Paul’s words to Jesus’s followers in Corinth, that each person should do their part in building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:26). Their time of sharing doesn’t fully match Paul’s instruction, but they come closer than I’ve ever seen before.

After several people share, the pastor asks for others to do the same. His words go beyond being polite. He’s almost imploring more people to participate.

I wonder if he’s leaving an opening for Candy or me to say something. At his second request, I squirm a bit, but he doesn’t prolong his plea. With no more takers, he moves on to his message.

The Message

It’s the Sunday before Christmas, and he reads about Jesus’s birth from Luke 2:8–14. The pastor has a gentle delivery, kind and accessible. Though it’s not his fault, I have trouble concentrating on his words.

I jot down a few verses and one sentence that strikes me: “God sent Jesus here so we could better understand his nature.” I ponder this, missing what comes next in the sermon. I don’t think of helping us understand his nature as one of Jesus’s goals, but I realize the pastor is correct.

How could I have missed this?

Fellowship Afterward

The service ends with more music, and then everyone hangs around to talk. Eventually, we interact with every adult present and several of the braver teens. We learn their leader is a tentmaker pastor, following Paul’s example of working his trade to provide for ministry (Acts 18:2–3). 

This, I feel, is how it should be, not expecting paid clergy to serve members but for members to minister to each other. If we rightly serve and minister to one another, as the Bible teaches, the role of pastors becomes much less demanding—almost unneeded.

With less demand on their time, pastors won’t need to work as much or receive compensation, with each paying their own way. We also learn many members have a charismatic background, but they’re careful to avoid excess, doing all things properly, as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 14:27–28.

As we talk, the lead guitarist has a bit of a jam session. “I really enjoy your playing,” I tell him later, “but I suspect you were holding back!” 

He smiles. “I didn’t receive the set list until last night. Since I live in an apartment, I couldn’t practice.”

Having talked to everyone, we finally head out, the first to do so, glad for the experience. Most of the ice has melted, and the roads are now fine. Our church experience today was a good one.

This church does so many things right. I wish more people were part of it.

[See the discussion questions for Church 55, read about Church 54 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

Discussion Questions for Church #54

I’ve read books about emergent churches, but I’ve never been to one. At this church, the church leaders want to serve this underserved neighborhood: the poorest and least safe, crime-laden and hopeless.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church 54.

They meet at 5:30 p.m. The plan is to share a meal, offer a brief teaching, and go for a prayer walk in the neighborhood. How open are we to go to church Sunday evening instead of Sunday morning?

My wife, Candy, asks what food to bring. As visitors, they’d forgive us if we showed up empty-handed, but during 52 Churches we did our share of mooching. How open are we to include people in our potluck who have nothing to contribute?

Our leader says that sharing a meal is Communion. As we eat and drink together, we do so to remember Jesus. How open are we to embrace Communion as a meal and a meal as Communion?

The sanctuary lights remain off, with mood lighting taking their place. It provides a peaceful, subdued setting. Some women dance in the back with graceful movement. What role can we let dance play in our worship experience?

May we remember Jesus in all that we do at church, at home, at work, with family, and throughout our lives.

[Read about Church 53, Church 55, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Jabez Asks God, That Your Hand Would Be With Me

The third line of Jabez’s prayer is: “that Your hand would be with me”

Having just asked God for greater blessing—in order to bless others—and more influence—in order to help others—Jabez realizes that he needs God’s direction and guidance so that he may proceed wisely and justly.

Indeed, having more blessing and more power can easily become a heady thing, distracting or even corrupting the recipient Jabez, being aware of this risk, makes his third petition one of soliciting God guiding hand.

Just as Jabez modeled for us, may we ask God that your hand would be with me.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Chronicles 1-4 and today’s post is on 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. And read more on The Prayer of Jabez.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

Playing it Safe

Our destination is not a church to visit but a revisit, returning to the congregation we were part of a decade ago.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #52

1. This church would be bigger, except they keep sending members away to plant new churches. 

How could your church do better at sending people into the world to advance God’s kingdom?

2. After the service the pastor invites people to come forward for prayer with the prayer teams. I appreciate them serving people through prayer, but few churches do. Don’t they see prayer as important? 

How can you elevate prayer at your church?

3. Today we heard an insightful message from a gifted communicator. We enjoyed worship led by talented musicians. Yet something felt off. They have a traditional soul. “Safe” best describes their vibe; they are playing is safe. 

How can you help move your church from playing it safe to being bold for Jesus?

4. I had meaningful conversations today, but they were all with people I knew. If I had shown up as a stranger, I would have departed as a stranger, feeling more alone than when I had arrived. 

What can you do to make sure no one leaves your church feeling like a stranger?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Though David Says That God Is “My Refuge,” I Doubt David Feels It

When it Comes to God, Should We “Fake it Till We Make It?”

Psalm 142 is a prayer of lament. David’s hiding in a cave, likely fearing for his life. He feels alone with no one walking alongside him or having any concern for him. He cries out that he has no refuge, no protective shelter, no safe place.

Even though it seems his hideout in his cave provides a refuge, it’s a physical safety. Perhaps he also seeks a spiritual refuge. He feels he has none.

In his despair, he cries out to God. He writes, “I say, ‘you are my refuge,’”

Note that he doesn’t proclaim that God is “my refuge.” How could he do that when he just said he has no refuge? He merely says that he said it, not that he confidently believes that God is “my refuge.”

Push Through the Doubt

This reminds me of the phrase, “Fake it, till you make it.” I’m not sure how I feel about this adage when it comes to God and spiritual matters, or when it comes to anything, for that matter. But it seems that’s what David does.

Though he says God is my refuge, he doesn’t believe it. Not at that moment. But he prays it anyway. He’s pushing through his doubt, hoping to reemerge to find confidence in God again.

David isn’t being disingenuous in his prayer. He’s being honest—bluntly honest—as honest as he can be in that moment. He’s struggling to reach out to God amid despair and overwhelming opposition.

My Refuge

Intellectually, David may know that God is “my refuge,” but emotionally he’s not feeling it. Physically he’s not seeing it. Yet spiritually he pushes through. He cries out to God, saying words in faith that he can’t yet put his confidence in.

When we’re struggling, hurting, or afraid, may we follow David’s example. Click To Tweet

But he knows he’ll get there. He knows that his weak prayer will move him from human doubt to godly confidence. And God, I suspect, patiently waits for David to get there, for David to get to a point where he moves from going through the motions to a place of faith.

So David can boldly proclaim, “You are my refuge!” (Psalm 142:4-5, NIV).

When we’re struggling, hurting, or afraid, may we follow David’s example.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Psalm 140-144, and today’s post is on Psalm 142:4-5.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.