New Year, Praying like it’s 2011

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Since my tad-rebellious side found it humorous, and it’s still timely and a blessing to me this year, here is a flashback to a public prayer shared originally on January 3, 2011.

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Lord, in this new year, let us put our hand to the plow, and continue the work you have called us to, not looking back. Let us remember not the things of old, but look ahead to the new thing you plan to do in us. May we see rivers in the desert, a way in the wilderness.

Strengthen us to throw off the weight of sin that so easily besets us and run the race with courage. Let us resolve to love more this year, to increase in faith this year, and to all other things, may we say only, as the Apostle James instructed us, “If the lord wills, we live and do this or that.” (vs4:15)

Strengthen the weak hands and weak knees, renew our minds, enable us to focus on what you would have us focus on. May we be attentive to where your Spirit is leading us and follow you.

Let us resolve to not be ashamed, but remember 1 John 4:4b, “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” Let us resolve to put our trust in you, the maker of Heaven and Earth, from whom our help comes. You are a god of hope.

Open our eyes to see your blessings and all the good things you give. This year, may we resolve to humbly ask you for what we need, for if our sinful race would never deliberately give children stones and snakes when they ask for bread and fish, as you said, Lord, how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

[tweetthis]Today, I’m gonna #pray like it’s 2011 for #NewYears2016. #prayer[/tweetthis]

Impoverished Gospel, Part Two by Adam Graham

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Note from Andrea: This article concludes a two-part series on prayer by a special guest blogger, my sweet, thoughtful husband, Adam Graham. The first part was posted last Thursday.

war roomSuperficially, the Kendrick Brothers’ latest film, War Room appears to say, “If you pray in faith, your marriage will be saved. If your marriage isn’t going well, it’s because you haven’t prayed enough.” We’ve known people who have had marriages fall apart in spite of their prayers and efforts to fight for that marriage, so that doesn’t ring true.

 

I don’t think that’s the intended point. When the film opens,  Elizabeth is a realtor and the frustrated wife of a hotshot salesman Tony is neglectful, inconsiderate, arrogant, and often absent as his job takes him to other cities. He explodes at his wife when he finds out Elizabeth sent $5,000 to her sister without asking him. She’s haunted by guilt when she overhears her daughter telling her best friend that all her parents ever do when they’re together is fight. Elizabeth meets Clara, an elderly lady who challenges her to pray, to learn to really fight for her family before God in prayer.

 

**Spoilers Warning** The film charts her growth. Her walk with God in prayer makes her a calmer, more peaceful person. Her daughter sees and begins to copy her mother’s prayer habits. Finally, Tony’s dishonest deeds catch up with him and he’s fired from his job. He comes home and tells Elizabeth. She listens and says she’ll try and sell more houses until he can find another job. She’s all calm and that annoys him. She tells him, while she loves him, she refuses to have her joy wrapped up in him.

 

This is where her character arc peaks. At this point in the movie, Elizabeth’s prayer life hasn’t changed her husband, it’s changed her. In her times of prayer, she has found peace and joy which enables her to face the loss of the income of the guy who had brought home four-fifths of the family’s bacon. From there, the film focuses on the restoration of the marriage, but she could have handled it if things had worked out differently because her life had been re-centered and refocused. **End of Spoilers**

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Prayer will always be frustrating if we view it as a vehicle for manipulating others by manipulating God to make them behave or to get God to fix our problems by fixing the world around us. God does move on circumstances and people at many times, yet it’s often true the one God will change is the one who’s on speaking terms with him. In other words, God changes us. Prayer is not primarily about God giving us things but about God giving us more of God. That sometimes changes our circumstances. More often and more importantly, it changes how we react to them.

 

This can be seen in the book of Habakkuk where Habakkuk wanted God to change his pronunciation of judgment against Judah. God didn’t do that, but at the end of his lament and seeking God the prophet was able to declare in Habakkuk 3:17-19.

 

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

 

Then there’s the Apostle Paul, a man so powerful in prayer and faith, he raised the dead. People took cloths he’d sweat on to the sick, and they were healed. Yet, he suffered a “thorn in his flesh” and when he prayed God to remove it, he was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9.)

 

On a spiritual level, Elizabeth from War Room, Habukuk, and Paul all got the same thing:  more of God and more of His grace.

 

If we’re honest, most of us don’t come to God in prayer out of a desire to get more of Him, it’s mostly to get our problems fixed or out of a sense of obligation. We will find prayer a frustrating practice as long as that’s where we’re at. The people who I’ve known whose prayer life bares the fruit people want from prayer have moved past that being the measure of whether the time they’ve spent in prayer was valuable or not. They’ve been changed through the time they’ve spent with God.

 

Despite its flaws, The War Room is a valuable film that challenges people to pray and to think about prayer. It illustrates how prayer works primarily by changing us to be more like Christ and how it can bring God’s grace to others. The movie’s portrayal isn’t entirely satisfactory, message-wise, but that’s one of the challenges of doing a movie about prayer or writing a book or article about it.

 

Prayer is a mystery. We participate in it, but our minds can’t fully grasp all of what it means. We can make it too complicated and speak too broadly about something we don’t fully understand. God isn’t a genie who gives you everything you want, but  God does give good gifts and God always begins by giving us Himself

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Amen

 [tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]What Elizabeth from #WarRoom really got from #prayer: more of God and more of God’s #grace.[/tweetthis]

[tweetthis]#Prayer is frustrating when we pray to get our problems fixed rather than to get God.[/tweetthis]

Impoverished Gospel, Part One

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By Adam Graham

Note from Andrea: This article begins a two-part series on prayer by a special guest blogger, my sweet, thoughtful husband. The second part will post next Thursday.

war roomThe Kendrick Brothers’ latest film, War Room, finished second at last weekend’s box office. The film focuses on the power of prayer. For many, that’s a problem. Some have accused the film of preaching a prosperity gospel that says all you have to do is pray in faith and your family’s problems will all go away.

I see the film as a mostly positive illustration of the power of prayer, but I also see how it could play into the hands of the false prosperity teachers. However, prosperity teachers aren’t the only sources of a warped view of prayer. This is important. Of all the areas where I’ve received poor teaching, none has done more harm than the variety of awful teaching I’ve received on prayer.

Growing up, the big thing was health. A popular sermon was, “Is it God’s Will to Heal Everybody?” The answer given was yes. The problem? As a child, I was often sick with bronchial infections. It recurred several times a year and hung on, time and time again, for weeks on. I begged God for relief and it never seemed to come.

When I was little, based on such teaching, I declared over my bronchial infections, “I am healed, and I was healed.” It was a nice, positive confession, but the illness continued to return to torture me round after round. As I grew older, I lost confidence that I would ever get better. Indeed, to this day, I have a bout once or twice a year with the same affliction that’s stalked me since my early days. I wasn’t alone in getting disillusioned from a lack of healing. I remember talking to a dear, sweet brother with chronic pain. He left a fellowship because he couldn’t live up to that standard of God healing him.

Thankfully, my never receiving a miraculous healing didn’t lead me to abandon God. I knew people who were healed, genuinely, absolutely, clearly miraculously healed, and only God could have done it. My conclusion was something was wrong with my faith and I couldn’t fix it. In the back of my mind was the idea maybe God didn’t love me as much as he loved others whose prayers seemed to be readily answered.

My confusion was infused with cynicism as I realized for some people, “I’ll pray about it,” meant, “I’m going to use prayer as an excuse to do nothing.”

At the first church I attended in Boise, I then heard a very clear message: God doesn’t want to hear about all your little selfish needs. “He doesn’t want to hear your selfish lists of requests.” This abusive church commanded us to only pray for others, and that’s what I did. Whole years passed where I would hardly mention my own needs to God.

It had been drilled into me that prayer was important and not doing it was bad for you. Prayer became the spiritual equivalent of an unpleasant medical exam: not fun but it’s got to be done.

I loved praying in groups because I did believe God would care about that prayer. Things that were prayed by groups had gotten God’s attention. He’d promised to move if two or three agreed. But me? Would my prayers ever change anything? Certainly not.

I did things for God and tried my best. Yet a lot of my effort was wasted. It’d be a mess or just unfruitful as I did my best to tilt at windmills and found the windmills winning.

Of course, I’d never publicly affirm that to be the case. I hardly admitted it to myself because it was too shameful to admit. But it’s had an effect on my life nonetheless. I worry too much and get way too stressed. I don’t have the peace I should have.
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I read scripture verses that I desperately wished would define my life but didn’t. They’d almost make me cry with longing for them to be true. Cast your cares upon him for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:7) In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. (Philippians 4:6) That’d be nice, and I wanted it to be true, and to reign in my life, but it didn’t.

Instead, I carried far too much on myself. In the process of rejecting the tacky idea of the abundant life with perfect health now and everyone having a Cadillac and a boat, I’ve also missed out on experiencing what Christ meant by that phrase in the book of John.

However, God is working on me and one thing that ministered to me over the last couple of years is Diane Moody’s book Confessions of a Prayer Slacker (Second Edition). I got it free on Kindle, and it was the best free book I’ve ever gotten. It’s an honest book about how this author built her prayer life. She was honest about her struggles and the challenges she faced in doing it and it pushed me to making my prayer life a priority. And my Donna Fletcher Crow book Seasons of Prayer
has added some helpful organization.

Slowly but surely, I’ve drawn closer to God through prayer and the vast majority of days I’m remembering. I’m not where I should be, but I’m not where I was either. I sin a little less, fear a little less, and am moving closer to Him.

People who target a false doctrine often forget there’s more than one way to be wrong. For every churchgoer who thinks God owes them a BMW if they ask for it by faith in the name of Jesus, probably two or three wonder if there’s any point to praying at all. It’s this second group that War Room is meant to speak to.


Adam Graham is a follower of Christ and a contributor at PJ Media and Caffeinated Thoughts. He is the author of the novel, Tales of the Dim Knight (with his wife, Andrea) He has been an adult Sunday School teacher. He is also a former President of his local American Christian Fiction Writers Chapter. You can follow him on Twitter @idahoguy

[tweetthis]NEW! Two-part series on #prayer by special guest Adam Graham @idahoguy. #WarRoom[/tweetthis][tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_hidden_hashtags=”true” remove_hidden_urls=”true”]In targeting #falsedoctrine we forget there’s more than one way to be wrong. #prayer Impoverished Gospel[/tweetthis]

The Edgy Psalm’s Invitation

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O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, Happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes Your little ones against the rock! Psalm 137:8-9, NKJV

These shocking words are more likely to be quoted by atheists than Christians. Most with even a cursory knowledge of the faith knows this flies in the face of our teachings on revenge.

If you’re reading it in a version that renders “Happy” as “Blessed,” understand why the NKJV turned “Blessed” into “Happy.” Too many verses–many of them right in the Psalms–describe God as gracious, loving, and full of compassion for us to accept the idea of God blessing someone for such cruelty. It can be hard enough for some of us to accept that, over the course of many centuries, entire cultures can become corrupt, unjust, and plain wicked enough for it to become in keeping with a merciful, compassionate God’s character to either order or carryout genocides, before or after the cross.

We hope the cross has changed that by taking all the wrath of God. We know it is Satan’s character to try to find ways to put God in situations that make God look bad to humans from our finite perspective if God refuses to bend the rules God plays by, which are all rooted in the character of an infinite being.

That’s not what this post is about, though. What I want us to focus on is why is Psalm 137 in the Bible? What is it’s real point?

If we read the whole Psalm, we will see, like many Psalms, it is a prayer, God’s people talking to God. This one in particular is a lament. What it’s saying authoritatively is that God’s people said this to him. Psalms isn’t primarily a prayer book, though. It’s ancient Israel’s hymnal. One thing a hymnal does is give God’s people examples of how to worship God in ways acceptable to God.

Psalm 137 is the prayer of a broken heart during the Babylonian captivity. It expresses the grief of a people who’d seen Jerusalem/Zion burned, plundered, and razed to the ground. It expresses the rage of a people who have been carried away as slaves into a foreign land. Their captors love to torment and mock them by asking them to sing the Psalms about Zion/Jerusalem. A very frustrated Psalmist responded to those taunts with Psalm 137.

I say this based on the whole text of Psalm 137. Likely, the Psalmist has also seen the women raped and loved ones murdered. If we read the whole thing, most of us can probably think of a situation that has provoked the kind of emotions the author of Psalm 137 is expressing.

The “formula” for a lament Psalm includes a “but” where after the Psalmist vents his doubts, fears, anger, and grief to God, the Psalmist praises God and starts singing the uplifting verses we love to quote. That is absent from this Psalm. Why? The author wasn’t ready for it, most likely. Don’t force yourself to return to “normal” worship because a formula or cultural script says it’s time to, if your heart’s not ready for that. Pour out grief to God is worship, too. It shows a trust and faith in God that are pleasing to God, if we’re doing it to fork over our toxic waste and are willing to let God fill us with the “good stuff” when God says it’s time.

Christ forbid cursing our enemies as Psalm 137 does, but it remains an invitation to pour out our honest emotions to God in prayer. His grace can handle such confessions and trade us the power to do right.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_url=”true” remove_hidden_hashtags=”true”]Christ forbid cursing as PS.137 does, but it remains an invite to pour out honest emotions to God in prayer. www.christsglory.com/?p=1300[/tweetthis]

 

Forgive yourself

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“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” (Ephesians 1:7)

In the “take your own devotions seriously” category, the day after my devotions reminded us, among other things, to pray about everything and always ask God for direction and his opinion, I let my husband talk me into going out to some marketing class on Saturday morning when I’d wanted to spend a relaxing day at home.  In a classic, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death” moment, we ran off the way that seemed right, without praying and asking God as I’d been warned to just the day before, and naturally we never made it to where we were going.

Obviously, we’re both alive and in one piece, thank God, albeit somewhat battered, but our car is done for, our finances are taking a huge hit, and my poor husband feels awful about all this, especially that I have a concussion that knocked me out of my wits for about five hours on Saturday. He blames himself, but he shouldn’t. It was really my fault. Rather than simply heeding my husband’s voice, I should have insisted we pray and seek direction from God. If we had, he might have told us to say home. We’ll never know now. But I hope I’ve learned my lesson–and that we’ll forgive ourselves, since I doubt my husband will buy my attempt to relieve his sense of guilt. 🙂 But we must, regardless, not pridefully make ourselves more righteous than God. If He has forgiven us, we must also forgive us.

We trespassed, we failed, but there is forgiveness and redemption through the blood of Christ and a wealth of grace that He lavishes upon us. Let us learn from our mistakes, pick ourselves up, and move on in Him.

Lord, take our failures and mistakes and through your grace and mercy, redeem them for your glory. I pray you would be glorified and lifted up as you bring good out of evil. Strengthen us to forgive ourselves and grow in wisdom and a closer walk with you. Teach us your way and guard our step in you. I pray we would walk circumspectly, not assuming, but seeking your direction on all things. May we grow in discipline. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.