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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.

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52 Churches

Prayers for the People

The church’s pastor is out of town, and the laity leads the entire service. One thing they do is “prayers for the people.”

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #48

1. Someone asks us to sign their guestbook but then scrambles to find a pen. Though once common, guestbooks now seem archaic and carry privacy concerns. 

What practices do you need to change because they no longer fit today’s culture?

2. A friend invites us to sit with her and her husband. The leader gives some announcements and then asks for more. After others share, our friend stands and introduces us to the crowd. It’s a nice gesture. 

How can you introduce new people to others and thereby reduce their discomfort?

3. After a song they offer “prayers for the people.” The leader opens and then pauses. After a bit of silence, someone else prays, and a few more follow. I like their approach, effectively sharing with each other as they talk to God. 

How can you make group prayer more meaningful and less awkward?

4. Afterward we stay for coffee and cookies. We linger for forty-five minutes before heading home, happy for our time at church today. 

What should you change so that people want to tarry and enjoy Christian community?

[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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52 Churches

A Welcoming Church with Much to Offer

Located in a building with shared tenant space, this church has an inviting location, easily accessible, with nearby parking. They are a most welcoming church.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #43

1. With little room to mingle, we sit down. Several people come over to greet us. They give a heartfelt thanks for visiting and invite us back. 

How can you engage with people who sit in silence waiting for the service to begin?

2. We’ve identified two key elements that make us feel truly welcomed at churches. One is sharing names, and the other is making a connection. Any attempt works, provided it doesn’t become an interrogation. 

How can you do better at connecting with others?

3. Their multipage bulletin contains their liturgy, but I get my pages out of order and later joke about my ineptitude to an elderly man. “We have to get a projector to display the words,” he says. “I’ve wanted this for years.” 

How can technology make your service more accessible?

4. Except for the prayer and message, the members handle the service. 

How much of your service do leaders handle and how much do members take care of? What can you do to allow for more participation?

This was a welcoming church with much to offer. I especially like how involved the congregation is and their sense of ownership in the service. I anticipate that a great future awaits them.

[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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52 Churches

A Favorable Impression

Our destination is a church we’ve heard of often but know little about. Our favorable impression suggests a thriving, dynamic congregation. After the service they invite us back. I want to say yes, but our schedule won’t permit it.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #40

1. As we walk inside, a young man introduces us to his wife, and they invite us to sit with them. We gladly accept his visitor-friendly outreach. 

What can you do to help visitors feel more welcomed and comfortable?

2. Avoiding the often-awkward greeting time, they pass a friendship pad for everyone to sign. It contains a visitor card, which Candy completes, but she doesn’t know what to do with it. They solved one problem but created another. 

How can you make your expectations clearer?

3. Foremost in their church vision is prayer. “There is power in prayer,” states the preacher. “Prayer should be our default inclination.” 

How can you make prayer a more significant part of your church service and your faith?

4. After the service, our seatmates give us a tour of the facility, which left us with a favorable impression. What an inclusive gesture. I feel honored. 

How can you better include, accept, and honor guests?

[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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Christian Living

Don’t Let Your Prayers Be Hindered

Understanding the Weaker Vessel

When Paul talks in the Bible about marriage, I struggle with his words because he was a bachelor. What does he know about the subject? Peter, on the other hand, was married so I give more credence to what he says on the subject. Even so I struggle a bit when he talks about women as the weaker vessel in 1 Peter 3:7.

This verse is specifically about husbands and wives. It’s part of a longer passage that talks about the marriage relationship. Let’s breakdown what Peter says.

The Weaker Vessel

In looking at multiple versions of this verse, most use the phrase weaker vessel. It offends my sensibilities because I strive to view men and women as equals. Some verses clarify that this weakness refers to physical characteristics, which I understand to be true, even if I don’t want to dwell on it.

The Message translation doesn’t use the phrase weaker vessel. Instead. it says, “as women they lack some of your advantages” (1 Peter 3:7, MSG).

The Expanded Bible clarifies this even further using the phrase as “the less empowered one” and explains that in the society of that time, women tended to have less power and authority (1 Peter 3:7, EXB).

Can we expand our understanding of this teaching beyond marriage to produce a general principle? Or is that taking the verse out of context?

If we choose to extend Peter’s instructions beyond marriage, we should all—men and women—take care in how we treat others who may be a weaker vessel to us: those who lack our advantages, who aren’t as empowered, and who possessed less authority.

As we do so we promote a God-honoring justice.

Joint Heirs with Jesus

Not only is this verse about husbands and wives, but it also refers to a Christ-centered marriage. Husbands and wives who follow Jesus are his heirs.

Some translations say co-heirs or joint heirs. The rendering I appreciate most, however, is that we are equal partners (1 Peter 3:7, NLT).

As heirs of Jesus, we receive an inheritance from him, both now and later. That is, we inherit eternal life.

So That Your Prayers May Not Be Hindered

The outcome of husbands treating their wives properly, as joint heirs with Jesus, is a more effective prayer life. In this way, Peter gives a command with a promise: treat your spouse well and your prayers won’t be hindered. Other renderings say “blocked” (1 Peter 3:7, CJB) and “ineffective” (1 Peter 3:7, AMP).

Peter gives a command with a promise: treat your spouse well and your prayers won’t be hindered. Click To Tweet

Moving Forward

Putting this all together, when husbands treat their wives properly—when everyone treats everyone else with respect—our prayers will be more effective.

Don’t we all want a more vibrant, effective prayer life? Then we should take care how we treat others.

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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52 Churches

A Day of Contrasts

Discussing Church 31

This church offers a mix of old with new, contemporary with traditional, and public friendliness with personal indifference. As a bonus, they also talk about having a Thanksgiving potluck.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #31

1. At one point, the leader asks everyone who is able, to kneel. It hurts when I kneel. So focused on my pain, I miss the prayer. 

What practices in your church may get in the way of people encountering God?

2. Two girls read about the Good Samaritan: the first in Spanish and the second in English. But this is the only bilingual part of the service. 

What changes can you make to your service so it’s more accessible to people of other languages or cultures?

3. Afterward is a Thanksgiving potluck. Publicly, they invite all to join them, but no one personally does. “If we walk slowly,” Candy says, “maybe someone will ask us to stay.” No one does, so we leave. 

What can you do to personally invite someone to do something?

4. Aside from the two greeters at the door, no one talks to us. After the service I try to make eye contact with many people, but fail each time. I don’t matter and want to cry. 

How can you let people know you care?

Though this church had much going for it, the lack of personal connection is my lasting memory.

[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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52 Churches

A Charismatic Experience

Discussing Church 27

This charismatic church meets in an old, run-down building, originally built for shared-tenant use. It looks abandoned and forms our first impression.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #27:

1. With a half dozen equally accessible doors, we don’t know which one to use. Regular attendees know which entrance to head to; guests do not. 

What changes should you make so that you don’t hamper people from entering your church?

2. We sit and an unpleasant odor assaults me. I eventually grow to accept it, but I never like it. 

What offensive smells and other distractions do you need to remove from your church? (And don’t cover one smell with another.)

3. During their “testimony and prayer” time, each person who prays does so loudly, to the point of shouting. 

How do your prayers come across?

4. They encourage us to worship any way we wish, but during the sermon the minister chastises us: “Forty percent of you did not worship God today.” He does indeed have expectations in how we worship, and he judged us as falling short. 

What worship expectations does your church have? What needs to change?

Though I expected at charismatic experience, unnecesaary issues got in the way.

[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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Christian Living

The Dangers of Centering Prayer

Beware the Risks of Clearing Your Mind

Several years ago, my spiritual director recommended I consider centering prayer as a spiritual discipline. About the same time, a dear friend was exploring this technique as well.

The goal of centering prayer is to connect us with God. It’s more about hearing from him then him hearing from us. The idea of connecting with God more deeply on a spiritual level appealed to me. I read the recommended book that taught about centering prayer.

The process the author outlined unfolded as an involved series of steps to follow with exacting precision. As I recall, it would take several minutes, up to an hour each time I tried.

Vital to centering prayer is the instruction to clear your mind. The writer admitted that it would take a few months of concerted effort to achieve the desired results. And even then, the sought-after spiritual outcome might not always occur.

Just reading the book exhausted me.

Instead of approaching my Creator with joy, the prescribed approach would rob me of my delight in connecting with him. I decided not to pursue centering prayer. The whole thing didn’t feel right to me, but it wasn’t until later that I understood why.

Now I have a bit of insight as to why this spiritual practice felt misaligned with Scripture.

Take Every Thought Captive

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul teaches them about spiritual reality. He reminds them that their battle is not in this world but in the spiritual realm. Among his instructions to this congregation, he encourages them to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5).

This is the opposite of what centering prayer teaches when it says to clear your mind. Clearing your mind strikes me as the opposite of holding every thought captive, as God’s Word commands.

Always Be Alert

In talking about the future, Jesus tells his followers to always watch and pray. In doing so they will escape what is to come and stand before him (Luke 21:36).

How can we follow Jesus’s command to always watch and pray if we empty our mind of all thoughts? We can’t. We must be alert and watch.

A House Swept Clean

When Jesus’s opponents criticize him for driving out demons, he responds by teaching them about the subject. He wraps up with the hypothetical case of an impure spirit leaving its host. When it finds no place to go, it returns to the person it left, finding “the house swept clean and put in order” (Luke 11:24-28, NIV).

It then goes and finds seven more demons, even more wicked than it. They invade the person, leaving them in even worse shape.

I wonder if the idea of a “house swept clean” is the same thing as a clear mind. If clearing our mind opens us to receive God in the spiritual realm, might it also open us to receive other spiritual beings as well? To open us to unseen supernatural entities that don’t have our best interest in mind?

I don’t know if this is the case, but it’s a risk I’m unwilling to take.

Connecting with God on a spiritual level to hear him and fellowship with him is a worthy pursuit. Click To Tweet

Centering Prayer Conclusion

The idea of connecting with God on a spiritual level to hear him and fellowship with him is a worthy pursuit, which can produce an amazing outcome. But I don’t think centering prayer is the best way to do that.

The way I learned to hear from God is much easier to do and much more effective. As a bonus, I don’t need to clear my mind contrary to what Scripture teaches and risk opening myself to negative spiritual influences.

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

What Did the First Church Do?

Four Keys from the Early Church

Just days after Pentecost, the people who follow Jesus begin to hang out. This is the first church. What did they do?

In the book of Acts, Doctor Luke records four key things:

  1. They learn about Jesus (think of this as a new believer’s class; after all, they were mostly all new believers).
  2. They spend time with each other (that’s what fellowship means).
  3. They share meals.
  4. They pray.

In addition, they meet every day at the temple (outreach) and in homes (fellowship). They share all their possessions. They praise God – and every day more people join them. This is what the early church did.

There’s no mention of weekly meetings, sermons, music, worship, or offerings. If we’re serious about church in its purest form, the actions of the early church give us much to consider.

Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 1-4, and today’s post is on Acts 2:42-47.]

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]

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.