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Rebooting Your Prayer Life (Part 2)

This is the second part of a three-part blog post about how to hit the restart button on your prayer life. If you haven’t read part one, go here.

Prayer has been anything but easy for me. I struggled in silence for many years… wondering why it was so difficult to connect with God in the most basic way. Prayer was an entry-level Christian practice, I assumed.

Why couldn’t I get it?

Was it a spiritual deficiency or blind spot that I’m in denial about?

Did God leave out the prayer gene when he created me?

And why did so many other people whom I respect – especially Bible professors and preacher types – seem to flourish in prayer? What did they have that I didn’t.

Stuck in Shame

These questions troubled me more than I was willing to admit at the time. At times I felt like God was punishing me for some sin in the past by withdrawing his presence from me. This vague sense of guilt quickly snowballed into shame. I felt like a scolded child who couldn’t look his father in the eyes.

My prayers were a perfect reflection of my heart. They were sporadic and inconsistent. I approached God when I did good things. I avoided him when I didn’t. The performance mindset had me in a spiritual death-grip that left me frustrated and fatigued. I believed that God would listen to me if and only if I measured up to certain standard.

I tried to break out of this bondage by tweaking my prayer strategy or trying to pray like someone I admired. This only accelerated the problem, though, because my underlying issue had nothing to with my schedule or anyone else’s experiences in prayer.

Every New Year’s Eve, I’d write new goals and design new plans for how I could go forward in prayer. It always looked so wonderful on paper! But when it came time to actually do it, I struggled. By Super Bowl Sunday, I was defeated yet again and retreated back into my prison of prayerlessness.

The Turning Point

When the cancer bomb dropped, it didn’t take me very long to figure out that I wasn’t strong or wise enough to walk through such a big trial without a steady in-flow of God’s power. Without his help, I would be swept away in a storm of fear and despair.

This meant that I had to learn how to pray for real. I had no idea where to begin. Was God angry with me because it took me so long to learn such a basic lesson? Could I approach him? Was he available? Did he even see me or was he walking with more faithful, less prayer-challenged people?

I got my answer the day before I was discharged from the hospital. It was one of those rare occasions when it was just me in the room – no nurses, hospital staff, family members, friends… nobody but me. I closed my eyes and said with a quivering voice, “God, I need you more than I’ve ever needed you in my life. I don’t deserve what I’m asking for, but I’m going to ask anyway. Show yourself to me! I can’t do this without you!”

About 30 seconds after the tears stopped flowing, I heard a sound like a music box. I questioned the legitimacy of what I heard. Pain killers had dulled my senses, but I was reasonably confident that this was a real sound.

You see, the hospital played a lullaby over the loudspeakers every time a baby was born. I’d been there for 9 days, but I never heard it. But this time it was all I could hear.

As it played, I heard something else — something unmistakable and crystal clear. It was the voice of God speaking to the innermost part of me. This is what he said to me as the music played.

“I’m here. I’m with you. This is good. Roll with it. Trust me.”

It was the most reassuring and encouraging thing I’ve ever heard. As the hospital announced the arrival of a new life, God announced his plan to transform my life. My body was weak, but my soul was empowered and invigorated in ways that I can’t fully describe. God was about to redesign the architecture of my heart. This moment of revelation led to many more revelations in the coming months.

It’s Not about Prayer

One of the more shocking things God showed me was that my prayer struggles had nothing to do with prayer. It was deeper than that. In my experience, prayerlessness is not fundamentally a discipline problem. The core issue is faith. My ultimate struggle wasn’t finding the right prayer plan or strategy. It was learning how to fuel my faith.

So, what is faith? Here’s a simple and clear definition.

“Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

When faith is flourishing, prayer is natural, unforced, and constant.

When faith is flagging, prayer is awkward, cold, and sporadic.

That’s why my attempts to awaken my prayer life were so unsuccessful. I was addressing the wrong problem.

Throughout the Bible, faith and prayer are inextricably linked. One of the clearest examples is Jesus’ statement in John 15:7, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

“Remaining” in Jesus is faith — trusting him and relying on his words. Asking whatever you wish is prayer.

If prayer is mainly an expression of faith and we’re struggling with prayerlessness, then the first thing we need to do is look for a faith problem. There’s a faith breakdown somewhere and, until we see it clearly and address it, we will be stuck.

In part 3, I will share how I am learning to fuel my faith. In the meantime, here are some questions to ponder…

Questions for Self-Examination

-On a scale of 1-10, how strong is your confidence in God?
-Can you recall a time in the past when God spoke to you? How did this event affect your prayers?
-What kinds of things diminish your faith in God?
-What are some practical ways to feed your faith?

Suggested Reading

The Disciple Maker’s Handbook

by Dr. Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick

Many people believe that discipleship is important, but they need help. In fact, the vast majority of Christians report that they have never been personally discipled by a more mature follower of Jesus. Is it any wonder that they have a difficult time knowing how to disciple others?

If making disciples of Jesus is the greatest cause on earth, how should we equip people to do it? This handbook is a practical guide for how to embrace the discipleship lifestyle – being a disciple of Jesus and how to make other disciples of Jesus. With contributions from pastors and teachers like Francis Chan, Jeff Vanderstelt, Bill Hull, Jim Putman, KP Yohannan, and Robert Coleman, the authors present seven elements that are necessary for disciple making to occur:

  • Jesus—the original disciple maker and centerpiece of discipleship.
  • Holy Spirit—fuels the disciple-making process.
  • Intentionality—making disciples utilizing a strategy and a roadmap.
  • Relationships—creating a loving, genuine connection with others who trust and follow Jesus.
  • Bible—using the Word of God as the manual for making disciples.
  • Journey—forging a traceable growth story from a new birth to spiritual parenthood.
  • Multiply—reproducing the discipleship process so that the disciple becomes a disciple maker.

Whether you are a parent who wants to disciple your children, a small group leader who wants to disciple those in your group, or a church leader who wants to disciple future leaders, the seven key elements in this handbook form a framework for understanding discipleship that can be applied in countless situations. In addition, there are questions provided in each section to help you think through how to apply the material to your disciple making efforts. BUY NOWother books

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7 Qualities of Life-Giving People (Part 3)

This is part three of a three-part post that identifies and fleshes out seven characteristics of life-giving people. If you haven’t read part two, go here.

As I tell this story, see if you can sniff out the final two qualities of life-giving people…

What began as a routine meeting turned out to be a holy moment for both of us. By holy, I mean that God met us there. We’d been sipping coffee and small talking for probably 15 minutes when it happened. Jeremy put his mug down and said, “Hey man, I want to tell you about my life.”

“Uh… okay… yeah… go right ahead,” I said awkwardly. Without hesitation, he launched into the unedited story of his life. As he spoke, I kept asking myself, “Why is he doing this?” But multi-tasking is really hard for me. It was impossible to examine his motives and listen to his story at the same time, so I interrupted him and asked him straight up — “Why are you doing this?”

He said that he wanted more out of his friendships. God had showed him that isolation and shallowness were harmful to his soul. So, he rolled the dice and showed me his true self. It was a bold and courageous move. Something had clicked inside him. The pain of having only shallow friendships with other men was greater than the discomfort of being vulnerable.

I was stunned. It was like Jeremy took the words right out of my mouth. I was in a very similar place. The almost constant grind of full-time ministry plus a crazy-busy family schedule with three young kids had left me with little bandwidth for cultivating meaningful friendships. I was starving for genuine Christian fellowship and and didn’t even know it. It had been a long time since I paused to reflect on my life. Years of being hurried and distracted had taken their toll.

God used Jeremy’s authenticity to wake me up that day. His transparency was contagious. He would share something, then I would share something. This back-and-forth went on for 90 minutes. By the end, our masks were completely gone. We talked about our dreams, fears, character defects, and the pain we carried around inside. We confessed our sins and talked openly about the regrets that sometimes keep us up at night.

It was incredibly refreshing. And kind of scary. Before this conversation, we were friends. Now we’re soul brothers. A soul brother (or sister) is someone who knows all about you and loves you anyway. These are the friendships that transform people’s lives forever. The Holy Spirit releases remarkable power when believers walk closely together without pretense or posturing. I’ve witnessed it in others and I’ve personally experienced it myself. Wounds are healed. Faith is grown. Struggles are overcome. Sin is defeated. Bondage is broken.

Do you have these people in your life? Who are your soul friends? Here’s an even better question — Are you showing up in someone else’s life as a soul brother or sister? I’m a firm believer that the wisest thing we can do to improve our relationships is to work on ourselves.

As you continue to ponder how you affect others, consider these final two characteristics of life-giving people…

6) Life-giving people are safe.

When you’re around a safe person, you’re free from the pressure to perform. You’re not constantly worried about how they’re perceiving you. I once heard a counselor say that there are three kinds of friends:

  • balcony friends who are in your corner and cheer you on
  • roller coaster friends who are unpredictable and add drama to your life
  • basement friends who pull you down and bring out the worst in you

As tempting as it is to immediately think of other people, remember to focus on yourself. Which kind of friend are you? How safe are you for others? Who knows without a doubt that you’re in their corner no matter what? Can your friends and family be themselves around you? Can they tell you sensitive things and know that you won’t overreact or betray their confidence? Do they feel heard and understood when they’re with you?

7) Life-giving people are transparent.

This one may be the most important of them all. Aside from dishonesty, I can’t think of a more potent relationship inhibitor than fake-ness. Life-giving people don’t play games or project a glittering image of themselves. They are who they are.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is such a thing as over-sharing (or TMI). People will back away if you share too much too fast. Self-disclosure is tricky. What I’m recommending is a posture of humble authenticity. You know it when you see it… am I right?

Transparency means not acting like you have it all together. It’s admitting your faults and talking about the struggles you face. It’s showing other people your pain. In superficial relationships, everybody’s always okay. We’re doing fine, thank you very much. Friendships are deepened when people learn how to be weak together in the presence of God. The alternative is pretending to be strong. In my better moments, I realize that strength is an illusion. God is strong and I am not. I want to be around people who will believe that with me.

Questions for Self-Examination:

  • Are you a safe person for your family and friends?
  • Who are your balcony, roller coaster, and basement friends?
  • What keeps you from being more transparent with others?
  • Who would you like to move toward as a possible soul brother/sister?

Suggested Reading

The Disciple Maker’s Handbook

by Dr. Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick

Many people believe that discipleship is important, but they need help. In fact, the vast majority of Christians report that they have never been personally discipled by a more mature follower of Jesus. Is it any wonder that they have a difficult time knowing how to disciple others?

If making disciples of Jesus is the greatest cause on earth, how should we equip people to do it? This handbook is a practical guide for how to embrace the discipleship lifestyle – being a disciple of Jesus and how to make other disciples of Jesus. With contributions from pastors and teachers like Francis Chan, Jeff Vanderstelt, Bill Hull, Jim Putman, KP Yohannan, and Robert Coleman, the authors present seven elements that are necessary for disciple making to occur:

  • Jesus—the original disciple maker and centerpiece of discipleship.
  • Holy Spirit—fuels the disciple-making process.
  • Intentionality—making disciples utilizing a strategy and a roadmap.
  • Relationships—creating a loving, genuine connection with others who trust and follow Jesus.
  • Bible—using the Word of God as the manual for making disciples.
  • Journey—forging a traceable growth story from a new birth to spiritual parenthood.
  • Multiply—reproducing the discipleship process so that the disciple becomes a disciple maker.

Whether you are a parent who wants to disciple your children, a small group leader who wants to disciple those in your group, or a church leader who wants to disciple future leaders, the seven key elements in this handbook form a framework for understanding discipleship that can be applied in countless situations. In addition, there are questions provided in each section to help you think through how to apply the material to your disciple making efforts. BUY NOWother books

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Rebooting Your Prayer Life (Part 1)

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with the way you pray?

I’m not sure where I learned this, but for some reason I grew up assuming that prayer should be easy. Shortly after I was baptized and started taking Jesus seriously, I expected to jump right into a prayer journey with God that would be vibrant and constant. And that’s exactly what it felt like… for about 3 weeks. I’ve been all over the place since then. My prayer life has swung from barely existent to praying without ceasing. Prayer has been a struggle for me. How about you?

Not long after I was diagnosed with cancer, I was compelled to reexamine the topic of prayer and totally reboot my prayer life and start over. I dedicated a full year to this – I read classic books on prayer, sought wise counsel from more mature believers, and experimented with different forms of prayer. In this blog series, I want to share what I learned along the way.

Defining Prayer

This may seem too basic, but if we aren’t clear about what prayer is, we may overcomplicate it. At least that’s what I’ve done. Here’s my working definition of prayer:

Prayer is entering into conscious contact with God.

Whenever I intentionally engage with God, I am praying.

When I see something beautiful or awe-inspiring, I can tell God, “Thank you.”

As I tuck my kids into bed, I can hold their hands and ask God to protect and bless them.

When someone shares a struggle with me, instead of telling them I’ll pray for them, I’ll pray for God to help them right then and there.

Whenever I sin against God or someone else, I can confess it and ask God to help me overcome it.

In the morning, before my feet hit the floor, I can say Psalm 23 in my head as a way to begin the day with God.

Before I eat a meal, I can offer a simple prayer of thanksgiving to God.

I can devote myself to longer, more focused times of prayer.

This list could go on and on. All of this is prayer.

Prayer Inhibitors

I know the check engine light is blinking in my soul when I don’t feel like praying. Here are the forces that hinder my prayers:

1. Pride. My heart can’t maintain a posture of prayer if pride is running the show. When I feel strong and self-reliant, I stop praying. This is so embarrassing to say, but it’s true. Sometimes I go through my days as a professing Christian who in reality lives like an atheist – depending only on myself, leaning on my own wisdom, drawing from my own strength.

2. Sin. Sin is willful disobedience to God. This blocks my prayers like nothing else. Especially if it’s a sin I’ve been hiding. You know when Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8)? Another way of putting it might be, “Blessed are those who confess their sins completely and quickly, for their prayers will not be hindered.”

3. Marriage strife. When I’ve been harsh with Joni or if I’ve been unwilling to make amends with her, my prayers hit the ceiling. It’s as if God is saying, “You can’t mistreat your wife and expect me to listen to you.” This is spelled out very clearly in 1 Peter 3:7, by the way.

4. Disappointment. If God says “no” to something I’ve pleaded with him about, it feels like a karate chop to the throat. My soul struggles to breathe. I’m thinking of specific prayers that went unanswered like…

When someone is sick and they don’t get better

When a marriage I’ve tried to help ends in divorce

When an addict relapses or overdoses

When my kids are hurting and it won’t stop

When someone I care deeply about refuses to follow Jesus

5. Hurry. I almost said busy-ness, but that’s not the right word. Busy-ness is an external reality. I’m busy when I have a lot of things to do and multiple responsibilities to juggle. Hurry is internal. When I’m hurried, I can’t seem to settle down. My mind races from one thing to the next. It’s like my soul becomes a television that constantly changes channels. There’s no way I could ever possibly pray when I get like this.

In part two, I will list 3 proven motivators that help me start praying again after a dry spell. The post should go live early Sunday morning.

Questions for Reflection

What kind of prayer life do you want?
Why do we seem to overcomplicate prayer?
Who taught you how to pray? What did you learn from them?
Which of the five prayer-inhibitors do you deal with the most?
What other things hinder your prayers?

Suggested Reading

The Disciple Maker’s Handbook

by Dr. Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick

Many people believe that discipleship is important, but they need help. In fact, the vast majority of Christians report that they have never been personally discipled by a more mature follower of Jesus. Is it any wonder that they have a difficult time knowing how to disciple others?

If making disciples of Jesus is the greatest cause on earth, how should we equip people to do it? This handbook is a practical guide for how to embrace the discipleship lifestyle – being a disciple of Jesus and how to make other disciples of Jesus. With contributions from pastors and teachers like Francis Chan, Jeff Vanderstelt, Bill Hull, Jim Putman, KP Yohannan, and Robert Coleman, the authors present seven elements that are necessary for disciple making to occur:

  • Jesus—the original disciple maker and centerpiece of discipleship.
  • Holy Spirit—fuels the disciple-making process.
  • Intentionality—making disciples utilizing a strategy and a roadmap.
  • Relationships—creating a loving, genuine connection with others who trust and follow Jesus.
  • Bible—using the Word of God as the manual for making disciples.
  • Journey—forging a traceable growth story from a new birth to spiritual parenthood.
  • Multiply—reproducing the discipleship process so that the disciple becomes a disciple maker.

Whether you are a parent who wants to disciple your children, a small group leader who wants to disciple those in your group, or a church leader who wants to disciple future leaders, the seven key elements in this handbook form a framework for understanding discipleship that can be applied in countless situations. In addition, there are questions provided in each section to help you think through how to apply the material to your disciple making efforts. BUY NOWother books

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A Prayer For When You Are Afraid

A prayer for when you’re afraid…

“We call the name of the One before whom the evil in us cringes, before whom fear and anxiety must themselves be afraid, before whom they shake and take flight; the name of the One who alone conquered fear, captured it and led it away in a victory parade, nailed to the cross and banished it to nothingness; the name of the One who is the victory cry of the humanity that is redeemed from the fear of death–Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified and lives. He alone is the Lord of fear; it knows him as its Lord and yields to him alone.

Therefore, look to him in your fear. Think about him, place him before your eyes, and call him. Pray to him and believe that he is now with you and helps you. The fear will yield and fade, and you will become free through faith in the strong and living Savior Jesus Christ (Matthew 8:23-27).” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

ALSO SEE: The Serenity Prayer
ALSO SEE: 10 Reasons To Praise God
ALSO SEE: My Husband Won’t Pray With Me: Is That Bad?

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Penn. HS Football Team Forced to Stop Praying Before Games

Transcript: A football program in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania is being forced to change one of its pregame traditions going back more than three decades.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation based in Wisconsin recently complained to the Dunmore school district because long-time coach Jack Henzes was leading his team in a pregame prayer. Eyewitness reporter Eric Deabill is live at Dunmore High School with more for us tonight and some reaction.

Candis, good evening, this was the two page letter that was sent here to the Dunmore school district back in June. Now the district’s new superintendent recently found this letter and realized what was being done is improper in a public-school setting. But that certainly hasn’t stopped the backlash here in Bucktown.

When you think of tight-nit football programs, the Dunmore Bucks come to mind. For years, coach Jack Henzas has led his team in prayer before games. Sam Malia was on the 1985 team that won the eastern conference championship.

“It just meant that we all came together as one unit, as one family.”

After being contacted by a concerned citizen, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the district a complain letter. Part of it read, “When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes, leads or participates in team prayer, he effectively endorses religion on the district’s behalf.” -Elizabeth Cavell, Attorney

“It’s been a tradition for years, you know, they pray for the safety of our team, the other team we’re playing, that it’ll be a good game. -Jessica Fortese Symons

Jessica Fortese Symons understands why it’s illegal, but that doesn’t make it easy.

“To have something like that just ripped out from these kids at the end of our season the week before they’re heading into playoffs it’s just, it really rocked their world.”

In a statement, Dunmore Superintendent told Eyewitness News, “The law is cut and dry. We talked to all our coaches. We wanted them to understand what types of behaviors are acceptable and which ones are infringing on the laws.” -John Marichek, Dunmore Superintendent

Former players are irate:

I don’t think they have any right to butt their nose into our business. We’ve been doing this for 30 or 40 years and all of a sudden it’s an issue? -Sam Malia

Students say they do plan to continue the pre-game prayer tradition tomorrow night, even if they have to do it on their own without their coach. As for Coach Henzes, we tried to reach him but our calls and messages were not immediately returned.

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Showing God Some Not-So-Common Courtesy

Requests and gratitude. They form a big part of our prayers and relationship with God. But we can learn a lot by exploring the origin of “please” and “thank you.”

Though we assume these mainstays of modern manners have always been around, they’re relatively new. And even today, “please” and “thank you” are not found in every culture. As anthropologist David Graeber points out, they’re actually rooted in democracy.

Our English word “please” is short for “if you please” or “if it pleases you” to do such and such. We see the same in French (si il vous plait) and Spanish (por favor). The purely literal meaning of “please” is, “you are under no obligation to do this.” Though there’s usually a social expectation that a request will be honored, as in “Please pass the salt,” adding the word “please” turns an order into a request.

Surprisingly, the term was used almost exclusively when asking powerful lords and nobles for a favor. “If it pleases you, my lord,” someone might say, “allow me to pay my tax late this month.” The understanding was the lord had no obligation to say yes and everything depended on his favor.

Similarly, the English “thank you” comes from “think.” It first meant, “I will remember and think about what you did for me.” In other languages, “thank you” conveys a greater sense of gratitude. In Portuguese, “obrigado,” means “I am much obliged” or “I am in your debt.” The French word goes even further: “merci” is from the word “mercy” and refers to putting yourself at the mercy of the one who granted the request.

Though “please” and “thank you” were once used only with the aristocracy, the words began to take hold in ordinary language when commerce created a middle class in the 1600’s. Then, people began to use them with everyone as the idea of equality began to spread.

But equality goes too far when we extend it to God. Contrary to the bumper sticker, He’s not our co-pilot. He’s the sovereign Lord of all, in whom all power and authority reside. The minute we forget that and treat him as an equal, a partner or a buddy, our concepts of prayer and gratitude become badly distorted.

Instead of approaching God with a sense of entitlement based on familiarity, we must make our requests with a recognition of His infinite glory and wisdom, limitless might, and bountiful love. Then, when He gives us what we want, we can be sure it’s because He knows and wants what’s best for us and, when He says no, it’s because there’s a good reason, whether we see it or not.

“If it pleases You, please grant my request,” we must pray, “but I recognize You’re under no obligation to give me what I want.” That humble awareness of God’s affectionate but unassailable authority will stop us from taking him for granted, or assuming we know our needs better than He does, or feeling jaded when He doesn’t do what we want. As Jesus said, “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.” (Luke 11:13) In other words, our Father knows best, and the most important thing He wants us to have is his Spirit.

And when our Lord does bless us, we must actively think about and remember what He’s done for us. James reminds us that everything good comes from God who blesses us because we are his “prized possession” (James 1:16,17). Thanksgiving is good, but thanks living is better.

We’re obligated to Him, in his debt, and at his mercy — because of his undeserved love and favor which are what secure our salvation, not the paltry acts of service we offer Him. “Please” and “thank you” embody saving grace, not social graces.

In our dealings with one another, it might help to remember that when we ask others for anything, they’re not obligated to give or do anything. That should make us feel grateful when they choose to bless us, and more understanding or forgiving when they don’t. And if we truly feel thankful for what others extend to us, we’ll also feel more inclined to return the favor or, better yet, pay it forward to others who can’t possibly repay us, or even our enemies, just as Jesus teaches (Matt. 5:46-48).

So let’s embrace prayer with no sense of entitlement or strings attached, and genuine gratitude that prompts a response. Anything less and our relationship with God will be little more than polite.

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