Prayer and love tend to unite people. Perhaps we need to do more of both at church on Sunday. Prayer should be a never-ending two-way conversation. Perhaps my most frequent prayer request should be "Lord, teach me to pray properly and what to pray for." Maybe knowing exactly what to pray for is what James had in mind when he said we should pray for wisdom. (James 1:5) What does God do when I pray and ask for something that is against His will? Nothing! He simply ignores such requests and gives me what is spiritually and eternally best for me. But if my prayers always include a sincere request to learn to pray better, He will grant that request and I will not offer as many ill-conceived petitions. In order for a prayer to be effective, the attitude must be correct before the words are spoken. To "say" a prayer without having the proper attitude is simply "word uttering" and is worthless. Passionless people pray powerless prayers. My prayers must not be so much an attempt to get God's attention, but rather a response to the fact that He has already gained my attention. He knows me completely before I pray, but I need to clearly identify and express my wants and needs so He can show me the difference between them.
A man hired a carpenter to build him a house. He described the house he wanted and told the carpenter "Give me a list of everything you will need. I will get it all delivered." Six weeks later all the material was assembled and the carpenter went to work. A week later the man drove up to the site with a spray can of red paint. He started walking around the stacks of lumber marking some of them with the paint. The surprised carpenter asked "What in the world are you doing?" "You cannot use any of what I am marking. If it has red on it, don't use it." The carpenter did as he was told and finished the house as best he could with the limited material. When the owner saw the house he was disappointed and complained about the carpenter's work. Do we do this with God? He has provided all that is necessary to make us into the person He intends for us to be. Then we withhold part of ourselves - our attitudes, preferences, opinions, prejudices, habits, likes, dislikes - and wonder why we are not as happy and content as we would like to be.
Loving other people is dangerous. Loving other people can cost us time and money. Loving other people can cause us to travel to frightening places and spend time with frightening people. Loving other people can result in us being with “others” when we would rather be with “our own.”
For children of God, is loving other people a command or an option? Mark 12:31 answers that question for us. And that love for others is to be demonstrated by doing and sharing, not just talking and preaching. It expects us to love individuals, as well as groups.
Such love is impossible for us to achieve and maintain unless we are Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. The “filling” will provide us with the desire to love and the “led” will show us how to love. When we feel we are unable to do either of these we need to emulate the love of Jesus and daily choose the life-style described in I Corinthians 13:4-7.
If, for some reason, we want to measure the extent of our love, we need to go to that passage and substitute our own name for the word “love.” (Go ahead and try it. I’ll wait.) Isn’t it wonderful to know that even though we don’t yet love like Jesus does, He loves us anyway and the Holy Spirit will continue to teach us.
It is the king's right to command and the servant's duty to obey. Why was Jesus born a king? Because His father owned the kingdom. Obedience must be attitude as well as actions. I must be as willing to serve God as I am to worship Him. Partial obedience to God is disobedience to God. If I become more like God I will behave more like Jesus. I am not a great servant of God, but I am the servant of a great God. Obedience to God, without a close relationship to God, produces Pharisees. God's future blessings to me depend largely on how much I have shared His past blessings. It is more important that we talk to God than about God.
Corporate prayer, when one person leads a group by offering an audible prayer, is the spiritual equivalent of elevator music. In both cases there is a sound that can be heard by each person present, but it is ignored by most of them.
Usually a time of corporate prayer on Sunday morning begins with an announcement that Brother So and So will lead in prayer. Then Brother So and So intones something like “Let us pray” or “Please bow with me.”
And just what are the rest of us supposed to do?
Therein lies the problem. Exactly what are those of us in the pews expected to do while the good brother is praying aloud? There seems to be three courses of action available.
(1) Listen carefully to the audible prayer and in our minds say “amen.” (This is the equivalent of “I second the motion.”)
(2) Listen to the topics mentioned aloud and then personalize them to our own situation. (When the audible prayer asks for healing for the sick, we silently ask God to heal Uncle George or Cousin Betty.)
(3) Completely ignore the audible prayer and pray for our own specific, private concerns as we are led by the Holy Spirit.
No matter which of these we choose, it requires us to intentionally enter into our spiritual closet and communicate with God. It requires that we make the effort necessary to shut out competing thoughts and focus on what He wants to hear. After all, prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue.
To do anything else is to have a form of godliness but not truly be as spiritual as we want people to think we are. And wasn’t that the sin of Ananias and Sapphira? (Acts 5:1-11)
Goodness and holiness are not the same thing. In fact, in the life of a child of God, good may actually hinder holy.
Goodness refers to those acts of kindness we do in order to help others. Holiness means being set apart and used for God’s glory. Goodness does not always produce holiness.
In Mark 9:41, Jesus talked about giving a cup of cold water “in my name.” Goodness prompts the giving of the water, while holiness causes that water to be presented in the name of our Lord and Savior. If we give a cup of water, provide free babysitting for the single mother who lives next door, visit a follow church member in a nursing home or help a stranded motorist change a flat tire – and don’t mention the name of Jesus or give God any praise – we are being good. But we are not necessarily holy.
Our good deeds may hinder increased holiness because such deeds cause us to feel gratified and pleased with ourselves. We may continue to look for ways to help others and overlook opportunities to glorify God
There are many good non-Christians in the world. Only the redeemed children of God are holy. We must allow the leadership of the Holy Spirit to show us how our good deeds (which bring recognition only to ourselves) can become holy deeds which bring glory to the Father.
The Holy Spirit creates a greater degree of holiness in our lives when we allow him to change the motive for our good deeds. Good deeds done in Jesus’ name and for the Father’s glory become holy deeds.
Are we willing to go beyond good to holy ?
Every person has made mistakes that can never be corrected. This is true because there are certain things that can be done only at one specific time. Once that time limit has passed there is no second chance.
For example, if we want to be part of our daughter’s first day of school we cannot do so after she begins the second grade. Or if we want to have influence on our son’s decision to buy his first home, we cannot do so after he has signed the papers and moved in.
When we look back and see all our mistakes, we want to change them. This may be out of a desire to reduce the pain we caused others or it may be an effort to reduce our own anguish.
Often, because of the time factor, we have only a limited opportunity to help those we have harmed. We owe them an apology, along with a sincere offer to make some sort of restitution. But their acceptance or rejection of that apology is out of our control.
Only they know how much forgiveness they are ready to give. They may not be at all interested in helping us reduce our guilt. They may have long ago gone past the failure that plagues us and therefore have no desire to revisit the incident in order to help us repair our emotional damage.
We must learn to live with the fact that we have made mistakes. We must learn to live with the pain those mistakes have created in our lives and the lives of others. Then we have to learn how to prevent that damage and pain from handicapping us and stealing today’s joy. The Holy Spirit will do this within us if we just invite him to do so. God does not want our present and future joy to be reduced because of our past. He has forgiven each of our sins. Now we need to forgive ourselves.
Recently a copy of the Ten Commandments was hung in each fifth grade classroom in the Middleville Elementary School. Marian, whose parents are Orthodox Jews, asked "Mrs. Johnson, do you go to church on the Sabbath or on Sunday?" "I go on Sunday," her teacher replied. "My daddy says the Sabbath is the right day to worship. The new poster on the wall says we should worship on the Sabbath. Who is wrong, you or my daddy?"
Jimmy's daddy pastors a Pentecostal Full Bible Independent Baptist Church. He asked "Mrs. Johnson, what is a 'graven image' anyway? "Well Jimmy, a graven image is a picture or statue of something that people think looks like God and they worship it instead of God." "Well, my daddy says the Catholics like Susie and Johnny worship the statue of Jesus that is in the front of their church. Do you think my daddy's right, Mrs. Johnson?"
About that time, Robert raised his hand and asked "Mrs. Johnson, what does 'keep it holy' mean on number four?" "It means we are not supposed to work on that day." "Well, golly, my daddy owns the Dairy Queen down on Locust Street. He says Sunday is his best day. Is my Daddy wrong for working on Sunday, Mrs. Johnson?" Just then Mrs Johnson noticed that Saboni, the little dark-skinned girl whose grandparents came to the U.S. from India, was about to cry. "What's wrong, Saboni?" she asked. "I don't know which god you are talking about. My mother and grandmother say there are many gods. You are taking about only one god. Are my mother and grandmother wrong, Mrs. Johnson?" Mulladi, whose father always wore a turban to P.T.A. meetings, spoke up next. "Mrs Johnson, why do you worship on Sunday instead of the Sabbath?" "Well, Christians moved the day of worship to Sunday from the Sabbath in order to celebrate when Jesus rose from the dead." "My daddy says that story is a lie. He says Jesus was a good man, but the story of him coming out of the grave is a story made up by his followers. Is my daddy wrong, Mrs Johnson?" Each of the families paid their school taxes. That tax money was being used to promote religious ideas that undermined what they were taught at home. Is this the way Christianity should promote "Honor thy father and mother?"
“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) is one of my favorite verses. This is strange because it is one of the most difficult commands for me to obey. I long to know God more intimately, to spend time communicating face-to-face with Him.
I understand that Bible study will increase such intimacy, as will time spent in active, joyous praise. Listening to God-based teaching and preaching will draw me toward Him.
But “be still?” I don’t understand! When I try to do that I keep hearing my to-do list and should-have-done list and why-don’t-they-listen-to-me list and what-am-I going-to-do list rolling around in my brain. When God saved me He did not intend for me to sit and do nothing, did He?
But maybe “be still” is not an end in itself. Maybe “be still” is part of the larger process of becoming like Christ. Maybe it is no coincidence that three of the world’s major religions were born in desert areas where stillness and solitude are the norm.
Help me, Father. May your Spirit increasingly control my mind and lead me beside still waters for your name’s sake.
On the evening of the first Easter the disciples huddled in a closed room and bolted the door to keep out the world. They were so frightened of the people outside they had to use doors and walls to separate themselves from outsiders.
Today our churches still seem afraid of the world. We hide behind our stained-glass windows, choir robes and Sunday School literature and preach about the evils of homosexuality, drugs and pornography.
The message of such behavior is “We are scared of Satan and his world of evil.” We meet to share time with other frightened Christians and have a few hours each week of “holy huddle,” fervently hoping the world will not physically or emotionally intrude.
We say “Our church doors are open. All are invited to worship with us.” We even send out visitation teams to persuade people to come to our church next Sunday. But are our hearts as open as our doors? Are we careful to invite only the “right kind” of people from “correct neighborhoods” to join us in our sanctimonious ceremonies?
If new-comers do not dress correctly or wash frequently do we secretly hope they will search for God somewhere else? The world that many people face every day is dirty, mean and dangerous. Many of the people that live in that world tend to be unkempt and rough, with an unpleasant odor. Do we as long-time members really want them to be a part of our worship.
The addicted and abused, the frightened and confused are not urged to attend the 11:00 Sunday morning, suit and tie, heels and hats, upper room gathering of the faithful. They frighten us. We do not want them to disrupt our services, offend our sensibilities and upset our routine. My goodness, one of them might actually sit in my pew.
Even worse, some of these down-and-outers might require some of our own personal time and assistance. They might become a bodily, practical expression of God’s message “unto the least of one of these.” After all, if we don’t intend to individually go “into all the world” we for sure don’t want the world coming to us!