The Power of Prayer

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

1st Thessalonians 5:16-19 NKJV

We don’t often see verse 19 grouped in with a teaching on the first three verses, do we? I wonder why, because it is of drastic importance. The Holy Spirit is our direct link to the God of the universe. Without Him, we have no way to communicate with the Father. And more importantly, the Father has no way to communicate with us. But what does it MEAN to “quench the Spirit” exactly? Let’s turn in our bibles to Ephesians:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:30-32 NKJV

We quench the Holy Spirit when we harbor bitterness and resentment in our hearts. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we talk poorly of others. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we desire to hurt others with our words or actions, or gossip about them behind their backs. When we do things that we know are not God-honoring, we quench the Holy Spirit and hinder our prayers to God. Anyone else noticing a theme here? I don’t want to spend too much time on this, especially since I already HAVE written about forgiveness, TWICE even! Suffice it to say, forgiveness is of vital importance if you desire to see your prayers answered.

I’d like to spend some time today focused on what it means to:

Pray without ceasing.

1st Thessalonians 5:17 NKJV

That’s a difficult concept to wrap your brain around, isn’t it? When we think of prayer, we’re imagining being on bended knee every night, crying out to God. We’re seeing a family gathered around the dinner table. We see a room full of students on exam day, or a family gathered around a hospital bed. We fail to see the mom who has reached the end of her rope and is crying in the broom closet. We don’t see the woman who is growing large with her first child praying in the lobby of her doctor’s office, hoping against hope that her baby will be okay, even though she hasn’t felt him move in three days. We don’t see the writer preparing her heart to share what God has shown her that day.

Praying without ceasing, to me, means being in constant communication with the Holy Spirit. What does that look like?

  1. Beginning my day with prayer. Every morning, I drag myself out of bed, let the dog outside, grab my bible and supplies, and open up my email devotions. Before I start reading, I close my eyes (I focus better that way) and ask God to open my heart to what He wants me to see. I ask Him to point out any unforgiven sin in my life and ask for His forgiveness in those situations. I ask Him to guide my time in His word, that it would be productive in bringing me closer to Him.
  2. Being open and listening throughout the day. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit will whisper something God wants me to do/say, but it’s harder for me to hear Him if I haven’t started my day in prayer and in His word.
  3. When something comes up, no matter how small, pray. Even if it’s a silent prayer just asking God to give you wisdom and guidance, take a moment to focus on that connection. Acknowledging you need God’s help in the moment changes your perspective and helps you to honor God in everything you do.
  4. End the day with prayer. Every night, I crawl into bed (it’s cold, and I have bad knees, so no kneeling for me) and just spend time talking with God. I usually open with the Lord’s Prayer, and just let the Holy Spirit guide me through what He wants to say:

In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13 NKJV

 

Psalm Two

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This particular passage has been coming up over and over again in my bible study, so I thought I would share it with you. I hope it helps you like it has me:

2 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,

Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.

Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.

Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.

Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

Living blessed, even when you don’t feel it

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Something I’ve struggled with since coming back into relationship with God is accepting His blessing in my life, mostly because I feel like I don’t deserve it. It’s something I struggled with before I left the church as well, so I thought I’d share what I’ve found so far. The reality is, we don’t deserve God’s blessing in our life, we’ve done literally nothing to earn His favor. In fact, we’ve done everything we can to push Him away, because He makes us painfully aware of just how awful we can be.

But there is incredible beauty in that fact, we just have to find it. We don’t deserve God’s blessing, but He freely gives it to us because He loves us so much. He loves us so much that He sent His perfect, sinless Son to die on a cross so we could be in communion with Him. He sent the Holy Spirit to us so we could know how to please Him. He guided the pens of men thousands of years ago so we could have His word to look to on days when we don’t feel we deserve His blessing, to be reminded that we are indeed loved and cared for by the Creator of this world.

He gave us the gift of prayer so we could come to Him when we feel less than blessed. He surrounds us with other believers so we can see Him working in the lives of others, to remind us that He will always be faithful to care for us. He brings unbelievers into our lives to show us that He cared for us, even when we didn’t care for Him. We all have bad days, and that’s okay, so long as we always come back to Him. But what do you do when you don’t feel God’s blessing in your life? There are a few things I do when I don’t feel blessed:

  1. Pray. This is always going to be number one, because it is our direct line of communication to the Father. When unreliable feelings cut me off from feeling God’s blessing, the only real way to combat it is to talk to the one Person that actually matters. He is the one doing the blessing, so turn to Him when your feelings get in the way of the truth.
  2. Realize that feelings are unreliable. Feelings are fleeting, and don’t always paint an accurate picture of reality. You are 100% allowed to feel the way you do, please understand that. But also realize that feelings aren’t an accurate representation of what is actually going on. There may be a reason behind what is happening, and you just don’t see it yet. Or you may not have all the information you need to fully appreciate what is going on. There are a million other reasons why your feelings could be an unreliable indicator of God’s blessing in your life. So don’t try and dismiss your feelings, because they are valid, but don’t elevate them above what you know to be true.
  3. Spend time in God’s word. Focus on the promises of God, and on the lives recorded in the bible. These are sinful people, just like you and me. Yet God used them to do powerful things for His kingdom. They were richly blessed by God, just like you are, and seeing how God worked in their lives will give you faith to continue the journey He has you on right now.
  4. Memorize scripture. The best way to combat the devil when he tries to bring you down is to throw scripture at him. That’s what Jesus did when He was tempted by Satan for 40 days. If it worked for Him, it will work for you. A simple google search will bring up hundreds of thousands of verses that deal with the promises of God. If you have a study bible, there should be resources that point out the promises of God.
  5. Ask others to pray for/with you. I know this seems strange, but there is power in the prayers of believers, and you can never have too many interceding for you.
  6. Surround yourself with believers that will build you up. There is no greater encouragement than realizing you are not alone in this struggle. The devil is insidious, he will try to separate you from other believers so you feel alone. Don’t let him, because there is power in the gathering together of believers:

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Matthew 18:20

 

 

Worry, and why it’s a sin

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One of the devotions I do every morning is the first 5 app on my phone. On the weekends they do a teaching video based on the devotions from that week. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, today’s teaching was on worry. Krista Williams, one of the bible study leaders, said something today that I think we’d all do well to remember:

Worry

Only

Robs

Rest from

You.

Worry in the life of a believer is sin, because it means we are doubting God and His ability to provide for us. He cares for even the little sparrows, why would He not take care of you, His beloved child? His word promises us that He will not give us more than we can handle IN HIM. We need Him for salvation, why on earth would we think we could get through this life without relying on Him as well? We need to trust God to provide for us, because we can’t do it without Him. He is our provider, and He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die for our sins. Why would He do that, but then leave us to flounder and fail in this life? The answer is He wouldn’t. He knows the number of hairs on your head, that is how much He cares for you. He is all-knowing, and all-loving.  Even if we don’t understand why something is happening, He does understand, and if you rely on Him, He will bring you out on the other side victorious.

Take some time today to turn everything over to God, He is more than able to handle anything you throw His way. Why?

Because Jesus came to earth and lived as a man, yet He was without sin. He didn’t worry, He fully trusted the Father to bring Him through victoriously. And you know what? He did! Our Savior is seated at the right hand of the Father as I write this, as you read it, and as you go throughout your day. Jesus is interceding for you in heaven. Your champion is fighting for you as we speak. And He will not give up on you, ever. No matter what you’ve done or how horribly you think you’ve messed up, He is fighting for you. He looked the devil in the eye and claimed you as His own. And most of all, He understands what you’re going through because He has been there. And then, He bore the weight of ALL our sin on the cross so that He could tell the devil to piss off.

The devil only has as much power as you give him, so don’t give him any. Don’t allow him to have a foothold in your life through worrying. You don’t add a second to your life by worrying, it only gives the devil power that he doesn’t deserve. So tell him to kick rocks, and don’t spend another second of your life worrying about things that God is already in control of.

So How Do We Forgive?

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It’s easy to SAY we’re commanded by God to forgive those who trespass against us. But in reality, it is so much more difficult to put into practice. The suggestions I’m about to give here are what I’ve done to help me forgive those who have trespassed against me, they may need some tweaking on  your end to work in your specific situation.

  1. I’m an incredibly tactile person. I feel more of a connection to things when I can touch them, so for me, it is VITAL that I start the day in the word of God, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I let the dog out and get coffee going, then grab my bible and open up my email devotions, turn to the verses, then pray and ask God to open my eyes to what He needs me to see. I like being able to just dive right in when I’m finished praying, which is why I open my bible first. Starting the day in the word of God does two things: First, it just prepares my heart and mind for the Holy Spirit’s leading. Second, it opens my eyes to specific sins I’m not letting go of so I can ask God for forgiveness.
  2. And this next one is the difficult part. I have to be willing to forgive those who have hurt me. The Holy Spirit has REALLY been convicting me lately about someone I’ve been harboring resentment towards, and how it is impacting my prayer life. This particular person has really hurt me in the past, so it was difficult letting that go. And I have to do it daily, because I’m human and I fail all the time. It is a day by day, moment by moment process. And then once it seemed like I was “over” that one, the Holy Spirit brought to my attention another person! The problem is I’m not angry with them, I’m disappointed and hurt they can’t be the person I need them to be in my life, which is so much more insidious than outright anger.
  3. Which brings me to my next point. In the POST from yesterday, I made the argument that the devil is behind encouraging us to hold grudges. Don’t make the mistake that a lot of people make in thinking that the devil is stupid, because he is not. He convinced a third of the angels to defect with him, and the angels have been in the very presence of God. If they can be deceived, we don’t stand a chance without the Holy Spirit. But we have to remain alert and vigilant, because resentment can creep up on you virtually out of nowhere. For example, I noticed I was “missing” calls from the person I mentioned above, and if I did answer, I was quick to get them off the phone, even though I hardly see this person. I was short with them, and not nearly as gracious as I could have been. And it was then I realized I was holding a grudge against them, and I hadn’t even told them I was upset! I didn’t even give them a chance to defend themselves. How is that a) going to solve anything, or b) show them Christ’s love and forgiveness?

I hope you understand I’m not trying to preach. I struggle with this daily, and it most definitely does not come naturally to me. If you’re struggling with forgiveness, sincerely ask God to help you. We don’t need a priest or minister to ask God to help us, Jesus did that work for us on the cross at Calvary. He intercedes for you with the Father, YOU personally. He cares, and He has gone through everything you have one hundred times over, so He also understands. But He gives you the tools you need to defeat the evil one, you just have to use them:

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,[a] against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—

Ephesians 6:10-18 NKJV

Make time in the word a priority in your life in the way that works best for you. It may be morning, noon, night, or midnight, just take the time to invest in finding out, and I promise you will not be disappointed. Open your time in the word with prayer, and you will experience a closeness with God you’ve probably never experienced before, that will help you to resist the devil.

Commanded By God: Forgiveness

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The cornerstone of the gospel message is forgiveness. Forgiveness of sins against God. If I were to try and list all the ways in which humanity has sinned against God, wordpress would shut down my blog, and the list would still be incomplete. We are a sinful and fallen people, who were on a one way ticket to hell before Jesus lovingly stepped in and saved us from ourselves. So isn’t it just the tiniest bit hypocritical to refuse to forgive others? According to God, if we are guilty of even one sin, we are guilty of them ALL. In the eyes of God, we’re guilty of the worst things, yet we hold onto grudges over far less. We hold onto hatred in our hearts and souls, and for what?

Hold onto that question, we’ll come back to it. I think its worth visiting what forgiveness is not before we get into what it is. Forgiveness is not being a doormat. It doesn’t mean you let people who have hurt you and shown no remorse for their actions back into your life. It doesn’t mean putting up with abusive behavior or acting like it never happened. Anyone who expects that of you is wrong, and you would do well to avoid people like that. They will make you feel needlessly guilty when they are clearly the one who is wrong. There are two things I’d like to point out that will be useful in helping you combat these types of people:

Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm

Basically, if what they’re asking of you is abusive or otherwise hurts you in some way, you have every right to say no. For instance, a cheating spouse/partner asks you to stay with them, even though they have abused the trust of your relationship. If you decide that is what is best FOR YOU, then that is your choice to make. But if you decide you no longer want to be with that person, you have every right to walk away to protect yourself from them. Every right in the world.

Don’t JADE – Justify, Argue, Defend, or Explain

No is a complete sentence. Often the people who are willing to try to step over normal boundaries in a relationship will try to find a hole in your argument to wiggle their way back in. So don’t let them find a hole in your argument. For example, I have a friend that gets incredibly hurt whenever I let them know I don’t have time to hang out with them. If I have other plans, I should cancel them. If I’m not feeling well I should just take some medicine so I’ll feel better and come hang out. If I’m working, I should get the day off. Over the years, I’ve found I just have to say no. If I give this person a reason, they will find a way around it, even if its not reasonable to expect that of me. Since adopting this approach I’ve gotten some push back, but I just hold firm to not giving them a reason, I am simply not available.

Let’s go back to that question. Why do we hold onto hatred?

In the end, it only really hurts us, doesn’t it? We get bitter, angry, defensive, and miserable to be around. Our relationship with God suffers, and eventually we start to see the consequences of that deteriorating relationship. Prayers don’t get answered, we start to lose His guidance in our decisions, and before we know it we’re asking where God is, when He’s been there all along. We’ve just erected a wall so high around our hearts that He can’t get in. We’re spiritually suffocating ourselves when we refuse to let go of our anger. So why?

Grudges are 100% a tactic of the devil

He wants you to be angry, he wants you to be filled with hate towards your fellow man, and he wants you disconnected from God. You are vulnerable to his more vicious attacks when you are angry and separated from God. Before long, doubt starts creeping in, and then you’re going to church less because why should you worship God when He can’t bother to answer your prayers? Is He even really there? Then you start pushing away your Christian friends when they voice their concerns about the state of your faith, and then you are completely isolated and alone. Angry, isolated, and alone. Defenseless against him, the devil will use your anger against you and turn you into someone you don’t like or know.

So the next logical question is how do you forgive? How do you see past the pain? We’ll tackle that in my next post.

Why I detest the phrase “The Reason for the Season”

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I love this time of year. Gathering together with friends and loved ones to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Over the last 3+ decades I’ve been alive, that circle of friends and family have grown to include people that do not believe the same things I do, but still celebrate other traditions. And that is okay. They’re not trying to take away my enjoyment of the holiday, they’re simply asking that we not take away theirs.

They’re not telling us we can’t celebrate the birth of our Savior in our homes and churches. Restaurants aren’t turning away Christians. The Honeybaked Ham store most definitely is not refusing to sell their wonderful hams to people who celebrate Christmas. In short, there is no “war” on Christmas, and honestly, I think it’s a little hypocritical to even utter the phrase. Christians aren’t dying on a mass scale to defend our right to celebrate the birth of Jesus in countries where religious liberty is the standard of law.

We’re getting mad over a disposable cup. We’re becoming outraged over people spending their own money. We protest when the government does it’s job by separating the government from public display’s of religion. You know, the law that protects our right to worship in the first place? Without the protection of religious freedom, it would just be a matter of time before our true religious freedoms were being infringed on. And you know, that whole other people have the right to believe what they want to, even if we disagree with them.

So when someone says Happy Holiday’s or anything that isn’t Merry Christmas, smile and say “you too,” not some sanctimonious nonsense about “keeping Christ in Christmas.” Why? Because our mothers raised us to have manners, and not be rude to people who are nice to you. That person took the time out of their day to say something kind to you, and you responded with rudeness. Do you realize how childish that makes us? We’re not sharing the love of Christ with them, we’re throwing a temper tantrum and that is EXACTLY what we look like.

It should come as no surprise to us when we talk to people about our faith they bring up embarrassing examples like this. We have no right to get offended when they rightfully tell us to kick rocks. Actions speak so much louder than words people, please remember that. People remember the way we treat them long after we’ve forgotten. Never forget that. If none of these other reasons convince you, let this last one, because it is the most important of all. If we are to have any impact on this world, we must always remember that people remember the way we treat them, and as Christians, we are called to treat all people with basic human decency.