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devote yourself to prayer

As a pastor, I receive emails from time to time asking me to complete a survey in exchange for a copy of an ebook. I completed one of those surveys this morning. To be honest, I really didn’t like my answers!

Today’s survey questions asked about my prayer life:

  • How much time do you spend praying?
  • What do you spend the most time praying for?
  • How often do you pray with other people?
  • When was the last time you spent more than ten minutes in prayer?
  • When was the last time you spent more than thirty minutes praying?
  • When was the last time you spent more than an hour praying?
  • How satisfied are you with your prayer life?
  • etc.

Like I said, I didn’t like my answers. But they were great questions; questions that believers need to be asked from time to time.

In today’s Bible reading from Colossians 4, Paul tells the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer. In light of today’s survey questions, I thought I’d dig a little into what Paul actually wanted his readers to do.

The English word devote is translated from a couple of different Greek words. But the words Paul uses in Colossians 4:2 are used elsewhere in a similar way. Here are a few examples.

  • They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. Acts 1:14 (CSB)
  • They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Acts 2:42 (CSB)
  • Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, Acts 2:46 (CSB)
  • But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Acts 6:4 (CSB)

One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for a dictionary) says that this Greek word means,
1. to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one.
2. to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing.
3. to continue all the time in a place.
4. to persevere and not to faint.
5. to show one’s self courageous for.
6. to be in constant readiness for one, wait on constantly.[1]

Another lexicon says this Greek word means, “to continue to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of despite difficulty—‘to devote oneself to, to keep on, to persist in.’”[2]

Let me merge a couple of those definitions: To give unremitting care to something with intense effort, despite difficulty.

In other words, “devoting oneself to prayer” is much more than “saying your prayers”. It’s much more than going through a list of prayer requests. In the context of praying with other people, it’s much more than merely updating the names of people and their needs on our corporate prayer list.

My answers didn’t fit very well with what Paul was telling the Colossians to do!

Ouch!

Application

How would you answer those questions? Would you be satisfied with your answers?

So what are some practical things you can do today to change your answers to fit more with the actual instructions Paul was giving the Colossian church?

Write your answers in a journal. Then devote yourself to prayer.

Periodically go back and review your answers and see how God has grown you in the spiritual discipline of prayer.

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.
[2] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 662. Print.

This devotional was originally published June 22, 2019.

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large prayer gathering

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Because of social distancing, this year’s observance will be very different than those in the past. Normally, churches and communities will gather for a worship service, a prayer breakfast, or a prayer service. Oftentimes, local politicians are invited to pray — or to be prayed over — during this time. For the national observance, popular Christian artists will perform for large crowds and popular Christian leaders will be asked to speak.

I’m not sure how much prayer actually happens at these events. In the events I’ve organized, I tried to make our time very prayer-centered rather than preacher-centered or church-centered. We used public forums to avoid the accusation that this was a “Baptist Thing” or even a specific church thing. We invited all churches and individuals to participate, per the National Day of Prayer’s guidelines. We tried to center the event on praying for the seven mountains/spheres of influence in America: Family, Religion, Education, Government, Media/Communication, Celebration (Arts, Entertainment, Sport), and Economics (Business, Science, Technology).

But what about Jesus’ statements where Jesus told His Disciples to not pray in public? (Matthew 6:5–8) A college friend of mine and I have had some heated disagreements on the application of this passage to the National Day of Prayer. He says that Jesus said Believers shouldn’t pray in public. My contention is that Jesus isn’t condemning the public display of prayer, but rather publicly praying for the purpose of being recognized and being applauded for doing so. Jesus’ emphasis is on the heart, the motivation for praying in public. He says the same for publicly giving to the poor and publicly fasting. His point is that if you’re only in it for the public recognition and public applause, that’s all you’ll get. If instead, you’re looking for the recognition and applause from your Father, then pray in secret, give in secret, and fast in secret.

So in the future on the National Day of Prayer — or the next time you go to church for that matter — consider your heart. Are you going to an event to be seen? Are you going to an event to be recognized? Are you going to an event in order that people will know how committed to prayer you are? Then be careful! If you’re wanting the applause of people, that’s all you’ll get. But if you want God to hear your prayers, pray in secret. Sure, pray in public, but don’t let all of your prayers be heard in public.

God’s more interested in your heart, not your public display of your faith.

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Jesus teaches about giving, praying, and fasting.
Image source: LumoProject

Jesus tells us how to give, how to pray, and how to fast in today’s Bible reading.

You really can’t separate Jesus’ teaching on these three Spiritual Disciplines. Why? Because He uses the exact pattern in all three: Whenever you ___, don’t be like the hypocrites who practice their ____ to be seen by people. Indeed they have received their reward in full. Instead, when you ___, go it secretly and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.

Application

So should we not give openly? Should we not pray publicly? Should we not fast openly? That’s not what Jesus is saying. What He is saying is look at your heart. Look at your motivations. Make sure that when you give, that you’re not looking over your shoulder to make sure that people see you give big. When you pray, don’t concentrate on saying the right words with the right vocal emphases. And when you fast, don’t make a big deal of it.

Actually, that’s the central point of all of the Spiritual Disciplines: Don’t make a big deal of it. Spiritual Disciplines (and the others) are for you to deepen your walk with God. They aren’t to be paraded around in front of other people so they give you their accolades. He says that if you’re doing it for the praise of people, that’s all you’re going to get. If you want the accolades of your Father, you need to do these things with your Father in mind.

Your Father wants to reward your giving. Your Father wants to answer your prayers. Your Father wants to reward your fasting. Seek Him in secret. He’ll meet you there.

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Image source: Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

A few days ago, I mentioned that demonic encounters in the Bible are relatively undramatic. And then in today’s Bible reading, we see a very dramatic demonic manifestation with a boy who is thrown to the ground, his mouth foams, he grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. When Jesus casts out the demon, it cries out and convulses the boy’s body. (Mark 9:17-29) That’s pretty dramatic!

But as I said, demons aren’t something that Believers should be afraid of. Jesus is mighter than our enemy, and much more so than our enemy’s servants. There is never a question in Scripture who is stronger and has more authority! If God’s Holy Spirit lives in you — and He lives in all Believers — you have access to a greater spiritual force than your enemy.

So why were the Disciples unable to cast out this demon? Jesus says that sometimes they can only be driven out by prayer. (Mark 9:29) So how were the Disciples trying to drive out the demon? We don’t know, but obviously they weren’t using prayer.

Application

Why do we so often turn to prayer as our last resort? I mean, we may do everything we can. We may ask for other people to help. And then, when we’re at our wit’s end, we turn to prayer. Why?

It goes back to our fallen nature that we inherited from our First Parents, Adam and Eve. They chose independence from God. They chose self-reliance. They chose to do things their way. And so do we, even as Believers.

Spend a few minutes today declaring your dependence on God. Remember that Jesus knew that He could do nothing on His own initiative (John 5:19). And if Jesus had to live in submission, in dependence on God, why would you think you can?

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If you’ve been around church for long, you’ve probably heard the parable of the soils (Mark 4), part of today’s Bible reading. Jesus pointed out that He spoke in parables to reveal secrets of the Kingdom of God to those who would inherit His Kingdom. (Mark 4:11) Yet His parables cloaked the secrets of the Kingdom from those who would not inherit His Kingdom. (Mark 4:12)

So who will inherit God’s Kingdom? Who can understand the secrets hidden in the parables?

It seems obvious that those whose hearts are “good soil” are the heirs to the Kingdom. They are the ones who will receive God’s Word enthusiastically and apply its teachings to their lives. They are the ones who will protect their hearts from being choked by distractions. They are the ones who will prepare their hearts to give His Word even more depth to grow.

Application

So how do you have good soil? How do you make the most of it?

If you’re asking these questions, you’re on the right track! You position your heart to listen. You position your heart to receive all that God would say in His Word. You do everything you can to clean out those things from your heart that would seek to distract you from letting God’s Word grow deeper. You do everything you can to drink in all of the nourishment from God’s Word so it can grow even more.

Here are some practical ways to “do everything you can”: Implement as many Spiritual Disciplines as you can. Prayer, Bible Study, Bible Reading, Bible Memory, Worship, Fasting, Witnessing, Fellowship with other Believers, Giving of your time, talent, and treasures, and Giving thanks.

That will get you started!

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