Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Learning to Pray - In Secret, Ask, Seek and Knock

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
‘Give us each day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?  Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
Since this blog series is about prayer, we'll just skip the fact that Jesus was praying and any implications that might be made around that fact.  But one of the things I do want you to see is something that most people consider anecdotal:  "It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place ..."

Why do we find a reference to "a certain place?"  If there was something special about a particular place, say the garden of Gethsemane, then why wouldn't we be told exactly the name of that place?  I think we would, but that's not the case.  Rather, the important thing we're left to understand is that there most definitely was a "certain place." 

So why is that important?  Because it's important that you designate a place for payer.  This isn't to say that you cannot pray in any place at any time, but you need a retreat, a secret place:
But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  (Matthew 6:6)
The Model Prayer
It took me a long time to figure out that the Lord's prayer is a model, not something we're supposed to corporately repeat week after week, which is why I typically avoid repeating it at the pre-defined time.  There are a plethora of bible studies and sermons on this prayer, but suffice it to say we should remember to acknowledge who He is, and the necessity for us to be in harmony with His will and that as His will is in Heaven, so should it be here.  We ask for our needs to be met and then confess our sins, and acknowledge our responsibility to forgive those who sin against us.  And lastly, we ask for protection.  The model prayer is something in which we should pay special attention to the order of the given concepts.  We will express our priorities through prayer, and the model prayer helps us keep our priorities in line with His priorities.

Ask, Seek, Knock
This is where the meat of the lesson lives.  We find a man, who upon having a friend arrive from a long journey, realizes that he has nothing to set before him.  In other words, he can't meet his needs, which for any of us in a similar situation, would be embarrassing.

Asking is a necessary step.  So, lets assume, for argument's sake, that the man asked his wife, "where is the food?"  Upon learning there was none to be had, his next step was seeking.  So, out of his house he went, seeking food for the hungry traveler and seeking after the friend whom he knew could meet his needs.  Upon finding his friend's house, he then knocked on the door.   He could have just stood at the door, upon finding it closed.  But if he had done that, then the door would have never opened.  Many times, God provides provision, but we refuse to knock.

One of the things we must avoid when considering this example is that God is not annoyed with us, neither are we an inconvenience when encountered through prayer.  The point the Jesus is making regarding the two men is two fold: true friends meet each others needs, and secondly, you have to seek, ask and knock when opportunities are presented.
No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
Relationship and Persistence
So, why did the man go to his friends house?  I know, it's a rhetorical question, but it's worth considering.  He could have stopped at any other house along the way.  The answer is simple: when we ask favors of people whom we have not earned the right to impose upon, we are more often than not, rejected.  But our friends are different.  We've invested in them and we've earned the right to ask favors of them.  True friends help one another, and there is no more truer a friend than Jesus.  Again, we're getting back to knowing the nature of God, for we don't earn the right to ask, seek and knock at His door, rather we are imputed with that authority.

But why the persistence?  Because persistence represents conviction - the conviction that we know who we're dealing with, that we know the nature of God, and that we know His will.  The man continued to knock on the door because he knew that eventually, his friend would get up and meet his needs.   While persistence helped, it was the relationship that provided a basis for having his needs met.  And that's the position from which we must approach God.

Learning to Pray - Knowing Him

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (1 John 5:14-15)
In a previous post, I suggested that there is a vast difference between doing for God and knowing God.  Interestingly enough, that concept segues into our greatest problem with prayer: understanding how to apply scripture like 1 John 5:14-15.  Which poses the question, how do you know His will?

Answer: just like any child knows the will of their parents.

Children can tell you what their parents would think of many different things.  They can tell you when they're likely to get into trouble through their actions, and when they're likely to receive praise.  Is this information impossible to come by?  Apparently not, for through a simple thing called relationship and "getting to know someone," children come to exercise these abilities naturally.

And therein lies the rub.  We're too busy learning pseudo-doctrine, denominational tradition and how to keep the Law, and in doing so, we substitute those things for getting to know Him.  The Scribes and Pharisees had the same problem:   they were well versed in the Law, but didn't have a clue when it came to knowing who God was and what he was all about.

In order to know Him, you generally have to give some things up, such as your view of church or your reliance upon the Law.  Church isn't about the worship service, it's not about the sermon, and it is most definitely not about the preacher, the projects or the ministries.  Church is about exercising the heart and nature of God.  With certainty, those things can be found in the aforementioned.  But it is woefully too easy to just do those things because it's the right thing to do, rather than because it is an overflow of His nature pouring out of you.  There is a vast difference between the two, as seen in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
So, boys and girls, our assignment today is to get to know something about His nature and His character.  And here's a suggestion on how to do that.  Read a Psalm, and when you finish a verse or a complete thought, ask this question: why?  Why did the Psalmist say that?  Why would God say that?

Here's something to get you started:
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, loving kindness shall surround him. (Ps. 32:10)
Why?  Why would God surround us with loving kindness simply because we trusted in Him?  What does that say about His nature?  Next, can you imagine an experience that must have been necessary in order for those words to flow from the authors heart?

Consider those questions, or others you may prefer, and consider the answers that would be consistent with other Bible passages that you're familiar with.  The purpose of the exercise is to learn something about the nature and character of God.  Doing so will enable us to understand His will, at least in some limited fashion.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Isaiah 41:10-12

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
“Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored ... You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them ..."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Serving vs. Knowing

Where or what, are your priorities in life as a Disciple of Christ?

But before getting too much into that, you need to determine for yourself one thing: are you a Christian or a disciple of Christ?  There's a difference.  According to the world today and the various diverse denominations, being a Christian is pretty much being anything you want to be: just ask the people as Westboro Baptist Church - they've garnered more press for Christendom than any one else in recent history.  If you attempt to define Christian through scripture, you'll find it to be a difficult thing to do, since it's only used three times:
Acts 11:26  and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. 
Acts 26:28  Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." 
1 Peter 4:16  but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
Based upon these verses, we might say that Christians are disciples, possibly persuasive and sometimes suffers.   It's also safe to assume that disciple, in the context of Acts 11, refers to a follower of Christ.  So if that's what you mean when you call yourself a Christian, you've made a step in the right direction.  But you're still not off the hook, you still must define what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  In the NASB, the word 'disciple' is found as follows:

255 verses found, 272 matches
2 verses found
3 matches
73 verses found
76 matches
42 verses found
46 matches
36 verses found
38 matches
74 verses found
79 matches
28 verses found
30 matches

So hold onto that thought about being a disciple, because I'm going to get back to it.  But until then, I would suggest that ...

Your First Priority is to Know Him, Not to be Used by Him

You probably think I'm off my rocker, for any good Christian wants to be useful to God.  It's what we hear week after week from the pulpit: find a place to serve God in your church.  What they really mean is stop being lazy and help us do the job you've hired us to do because we can't do it all by ourselves.  But I digress...

Eventually, if you hang around long enough, you'll hear one of them say something about being "put on the shelf" or finding yourself "useless" for kingdom work.  They will claim that it usually happens because of some sin you've committed, or because you're just not interested in Godly things, or you're a back-slider or just simply in rebellion towards God.

But it turns out, more often than not, being found useless is our greatest fear, right?  Well then you might want to also remember this:  that which you fear loosing most is that wherein you've placed your security.  Which means, if you fear being useless to God, then your security in your relationship to God is found through your usefulness to Him, not in His nature, not in His character, nor in His loving kindness towards you.

Which means this: you have a performance based relationship with God: if you do good things, you're rewarded with cookies and candy.  But if you do bad things - or possibly no things at all - you're punished by being ignored and cast away like a worthless piece of trash.

If you still think I'm off my rocker, then answer this question: do you want to be used by your spouse?  Do you want to have a relationship wherein your spouse micro-manages your life, tells you what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and then judges you on the outcomes?  Or possibly you have an enlightened view of the marital relationship and you want to figure out what pleases your spouse the most and then be judged on your performance?  Sounds like a perfect relationship right?  No?

Actually, the truth about the marriage relationship is that you need to get to know your spouse.  Only after you have learned who your spouse is can you anticipate his or her needs.  When you know your spouse, you know what they are doing at any given time, what they will think regarding a given situation.  When you know your spouse, you can act with confidence in your relationship towards others on their behalf.  And when your relationship is built upon mutual trust, love, affection and respect, then you can live your life with them in safety and assurance.  That is how the marriage is supposed to work.

But we're quick to forget that our relationship to God is described as a husband and wife relationship.  Instead, we turn it into that which we have created in our churches: an employer relationship wherein we hire the employee and then let him run our spiritual lives.  Kinda like we treat God: we employ Him to save our souls and then expect Him to run (or ruin) our lives through micro-management and weekly, judgmental performance evaluations.  And in this dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship, we are taught to believe that only through service and wanting to be used by God can we find true happiness.

Serving God is fine.  Unless it's what you do instead of who you are.  Jesus never called us to "do witnessing."  Rather, He said we would "be witnesses."  There's a big difference.  Any one can purger themselves by doing witnessing in a court of law, but it is only the real witness that can enter and leave the courts of law with confidence and a clear conscience.  People who "do for God" may eventually burn out or retire from the ministry because what they were doing was a vocation, not a reflection of who they were in Christ.


So, what has all this got to do with priorities?  If your priorities are to be used of God, then your priorities are wrong.  You're in a performance based relationship.  You're either trying to perform for God, or you're trying to perform for man, or possibly both.  In either case, it's your ego that you're feeding through adulation and approval.  While you can gain the approval of Man, there's not a blooming thing you can do to gain the approval of God, for Jesus has already earned and imputed that approval to you.  If you are not made righteous by God, then you're not righteous or worthy of any kind of approval by God, at all, period-the-end.

So then, what's the priority?  Get to know Him.
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
(Php 3:8-12)

What did a Disciple Do?

When you consider the disciples of Christ, what was it that they did?  Well, basically, they just followed Jesus around every where He went.  Yes, that's a very small way of looking at it, I know.  But consider it for a moment and ask yourself, why did they do that?  What benefit was there?  Could they have not picked up a sermon on the mount here and there and figured out what Jesus was all about?  Everyone else seemed to, or at least we can assume that many people did.

The Disciples followed Jesus in order to get to know Him.  You don't really know someone until you've lived with them, walked in their paths, experienced them in those private times - it's only then will you learn if their talk matches their walk.  That's what a disciple does - He learns who his master really is, and what his master is really all about.

You can be a Christian and define yourself anyway you want to.  But in order to call your self a disciple of Christ, you must yield to a higher authority and a different standard.  And in doing so, you will learn the difference between knowing Jesus and serving Jesus.