How to Pray

Prayer has been a topic that is on my mind a lot lately. Do I pray well? Do I pray faithfully? Do I devote not just the appropriate amount of time to it, but also, do my prayers reflect Biblical priorities? Are they – in effect – quality prayers?

In these questions, I was helped by two things this past week. One was a quote from D. A. Carson, who has written an excellent book on prayer that I would recommend to anyone (“A Call to Spiritual Reformation“). At some point in your developing prayer life, you will start to wonder “does this make any difference?” If God is in control of all things, doesn’t that make prayer somewhat pointless? Carson clearly gives the antidote to this sort of thinking: “The Bible simultaneously pictures God as utterly sovereign, and as a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God.” And indeed, this is true. It is one of the many mysteries of theology that we simply need to accept even if we can’t perfectly explain it. As I once heard a wise man say at an ordination council: “If Jesus needed to pray in the garden, then how much more is my own need for prayer?”

A second item of help that I came across this week was a short piece written by Donald Whitney. I’m currently reading an excellent book of his (“Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life“) and so, when I came across this post online, I easily recognized his practical-yet-Biblical approach to Christian faithfulness:

“The problem isn’t that we pray about the same old things; the problem is that we tend to say the same old things about the same old things. The result is that we can be talking to the most fascinating Person in the universe about the most important things in our lives — and be bored to death.”

So what is the solution?

“Suppose you are praying your way through Psalm 23. After reading verse one — ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ — you might begin by thanking Jesus for being your Shepherd. Next you might ask him to shepherd your family, making your children or grandchildren his sheep, causing them to love him as their great Shepherd too. After that you might pray for your undershepherds at the church, that Jesus would shepherd them as they shepherd you.

Then, when nothing else comes to mind, you go to the next line, “I shall not want.” You might thank him that you’ve never been in real want, or pray for someone — perhaps someone you know, or for a Christian in a place of persecution — who is in want.

You would continue through the psalm until you run out of time. You wouldn’t run out of anything to say (if you did, you could just go to another psalm), and best of all, that prayer would be unlike any you’ve ever prayed in your life.”

Helpful, Biblical, practical, and do-able. Read the full article here.

The Prosperity Gospel Here and Now

From an excellent article by Pastor Erik Raymond:

“When so much of the emphasis is upon the here and now and so little is placed upon the New City that awaits us we have to ask the question, ‘Do you even want to go to heaven?’ Let’s say I had the ability to make you a deal where you could stay here on this world forever. You would never die and the ability to enjoy this world would not end. You could play all the video games, watch all the sunsets, drink and eat all the whatever, there would be football, hunting, shopping, and whatever else you want. You could just ride the merry-go-round of this world forever without ever having to put in another quarter. The only catch is this: no God. That’s right, you can’t pray, read the Bible, go to church, or anything. It is on the shelf. Would you take it?

The very thing that makes heaven so heavenly is God. That which makes Christians long for heaven is the lack of God-wardness here (starting in our own souls but moving out to the world around us). Ultimately, we don’t want more rides on the merry-go-round, we want fellowship with God unhindered by our sinful flesh!

Prosperity thinking has subtly lulled us to sleep dreaming solely of sunsets, success, and self-fulfillment. Friends, it’s not ultimately about any of this. The gospel brings us to God. I’m afraid we’ve gotten this twisted. The prosperity gospel has gone viral and the worst part is, many of us don’t even realize it.”

Read the rest here.

II Samuel 15:1-37 Rebellious Lessons

Rebellious Lessons

2 Samuel 15:1-37

(15:1-12) Absalom concocts a plan to challenge David for the throne. He wins over the hearts of the people by lying about how David conducts the court system and by being a populist leader.

(15:13-23) David finds out about Absalom’s rebellion, but decides it would be better for there to not be bloodshed in the streets; so he and his household flee from the palace. One of his personal bodyguards reaffirms his loyalty, encouraging the king.

(15:24-29) The priests and the Levites bring the ark out of Jerusalem to David in a show of loyalty, but David tells them to turn back. He trusts the Lord – not some manmade object, important as it may be. As well, the priests can serve as David’s spies in the city.

(15:30-37) Lastly, David receives word of an advisor betraying him. All he can do is pray to the Lord and – almost immediately! – the Lord answers David’s prayer.

Conclusion: do not sit by when tragedy strikes – weep, but also trust and then act!

II Samuel 12:1-31 The Wages of Sin & The Mercy of God

The Wages of Sin & The Mercy of God

2 Samuel 12:1-31

(12:1-6) Nathan the prophet is sent by God to confront David. He does this by telling a parable, one where a rich man uses his power to oppress a poor man. David responds that this is incredibly wicked.

(12:7-15) Nathan responds that David has then condemned himself because the story is about David’s evil acts. David acknowledges the truth of these words as Nathan pronounces the sentence from God.

(12:16-25) David and Bathsheba’s child dies. And yet, David knows that this is not God’s fault, but His own; so He continues to trust and worship the Lord. Solomon is then born.

(12:26-31) Our story comes full circle with the defeat of the Ammonites and the restoration of David.

Romans 2:1-11 There Is No Favoritism

2:1-2 Some in Paul’s original audience would have wholeheartedly agreed with him regarding the sins listed in chapter 1. But here Paul turns and reminds them (and us!) that we are no better. When we judge, we only condemn ourselves in the process.

2:3-5 If we think we do not sin then we deceive ourselves; so, too, if we think that God will not judge even those who call themselves “Christians” and yet don’t live as He has commanded. God is patient with us specifically to bring us to repentance, not because He is turning a blind eye towards our sins.

2:6-8 Everyone responds to God in one of two ways. Either they seek to honor Him by serving out of a heartfelt gratitude, or they serve themselves by continuing in their rebellion against the Lord. The first group shall receive God’s blessing of eternal life with Him. The second group will receive only what they deserve: condemnation.

2:9-11 Therefore, we must understand that all people, everywhere, will be judged. The rescue from this deserved punishment comes not from being a Jew or Gentile, but from trusting in Christ alone.