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Spiritual Disciplines

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Teach us to pray

Dr. Luke gives his version of the Disciples’ Prayer in today’s Bible reading. It differs a little from Matthew’s version (Matthew 6:9-13), the version many of us learned growing up in church. And yet the version we learned adds a little to the end, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

Why are there so many versions of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples? The fact that there are different versions only proves the Bible is full of contradictions, right?

Uh, no! The fact that there are different versions just illustrates that different people remembered different things from their life experiences walking around with Jesus. Whoever Dr. Luke used for his source for this version of the Prayer may have only heard it this way. Whereas, Matthew wrote what he heard. Jesus may have been asked this question once and was heard by both people at the same time. Or Jesus may have taught the Prayer more than once and each source simply recorded what they heard on that occasion.

Add to that, the longer version of the Prayer that most of us learned so many years ago actually came from later manuscripts where scribes added some of their own traditions to the Biblical Prayer.

None of this should surprise us; it merely points to the fact that God used regular human beings to put together and preserve our Bible. We need to be careful in applying today’s understanding of recording history to the way the Bible writers recorded history; they recorded history differently than we do. A high view of Scripture allows for each Biblical writer to contribute his unique nuances. Rather than giving us contradictory information, each Biblical writer provides his own complementary information.

Don’t get lost in the minutiae of the differences in the versions or the manuscripts which contain a few more words than another. The Bottom Line is that God has preserved His Word for us over almost two thousand years in a remarkably consistent way. Rather than getting caught up with the differences, look at the similar content and augment that with the different content. And remember that Jesus didn’t teach His disciples to commit to rote memory a few static sentences.

Note, the disciples didn’t ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Instead, they asked Him to teach them to pray.

Application

Oftentimes we approach prayer as an opportunity to bring our shopping list to God. Over time, we tend to get the “gimmes”: Gimme this. Gimme that. And gimme lots of these other things.

Note that in Jesus’ prayer, only one sentence pertains to requesting something for ourselves. And that request is simply for our needs. Most of the prayer is praising God, asking Him to keep doing what He’s already doing, and confessing of our own shortcoming as we forgive the shortcomings of others.

There’s nothing wrong with asking God for stuff. Actually, we are encouraged to take our requests to God. (Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 6:18) Think about it, if God is our Provider, failing to ask Him to provide is to fail to glorify Him as our Provider!

How do your prayers compare with Jesus’? Are your prayers filled with “gimmes”? Are your prayers filled with praise? Thanksgiving? If you tend to spend more time requesting things — for yourself or for others — try spending a little time doing nothing but praising God for Who He is and thanking Him for what He’s done.

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Jesus often withdraws to deserted places to pray.
Image source: Lumo Project

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus’ secret to overcoming temptation. In today’s Bible reading, we see the secret to Jesus’ life overall.

Simon and his business partners, James and John have been fishing all night. They have caught nothing. It happens occasionally. When you make your living fishing, some days are diamonds and some days are coal. Last night was stone hard, dirty, black coal and the men are discouraged and tired. But at Jesus’ suggestion, they cast their freshly-cleaned nets and haul in two boats full of fish! There are so many fish that both boats begin to sink! This was a diamond of a day! Completely overwhelmed, Simon cries out to Jesus, “Get away from me. I’m a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Jesus simply responds, Simon, James, and John, your fishing days are over. This is the fishing story of all fishing stories! You’re retiring at the top of your game. From now on, you’ll fish for the souls of men. Immediately, they drop everything and follow Him.

Wait! What? They don’t even take their catch to the market! They just leave the fish and the nets in the boats and walk away. Obviously, they saw that Jesus was worth more than the value of two boatloads of fish!

As Jesus travels, news about Him travels faster. He finds Himself being greeted by large crowds of sick people, desperately asking Him to heal them. And He does.

Next, Dr. Luke tosses in a nugget of information that we might otherwise overlook. “Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 (CSB)

One might think that Jesus was successful because of all that he accomplished. Or maybe He was successful because of the miraculous things that He did. But Dr. Luke’s little piece of information speaks volumes. Yes, the ministry was great. The numbers were growing. Yet, Jesus often withdrew to secluded places to pray.

Some people are energized by the crowds and rubbing elbows with lots of people. But as an introvert, I can relate a bit to Dr. Luke’s statement. Sure, I can be “out there” with people. I can speak to lots of people. I can greet lots of people. But it takes a lot of energy. I have to withdraw from people to recharge my batteries.

Application

Note that Dr. Luke doesn’t just say that Jesus withdrew to pray. He points out that Jesus often withdrew to pray. It wasn’t just once a week. It wasn’t just once a quarter. It wasn’t every seven years for a sabbatical. No, Jesus often withdrew to pray. It was his habit, his normal mode of operation. A.T. Robertson says,

The more the crowds came as a result of the leper’s story, the more Jesus turned away from them to the desert regions and prayed with the Father. It is a picture of Jesus drawn with vivid power. The wild enthusiasm of the crowds was running ahead of their comprehension of Christ and his mission and message. [1]

Do you often withdraw from your activities to pray? I’m sure that you’re not as busy as Jesus. I know I’m not. But if Jesus needed to take some time to pray, we do, too! And we need to do it more than He did!

So… When was the last time you spent some extended time praying? Extended time…. like more than a couple of minutes? Like more than ten minutes? Like an hour or more?

Simon and his business partners knew that being with Jesus was worth far more than whatever they would get from selling their catch, their nets, and their boats. Do you? Do you see that being with Jesus (yes, now, on this side of eternity) is worth far more than anything you could do with your time? That’s what Christian Hedonism is all about: seeing Jesus as being worth way more than anything else.

Maybe you and I need to get away (not together) for a little while to spend some extended time in prayer.

Often.

[1] Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.

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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.

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In today’s Bible reading, Paul completes his statement of what being filled with the Holy Spirit looks like as it applies to relationships with parents and children and with masters and servants (employers and employees in our context). He concludes the chapter discussing Spiritual Warfare.

Most believers think they’re being persecuted for being a believer when they can’t wear Christian-themed jewelry at work. Or they can’t wish “Merry Christmas” to customers in the checkout line.

Let me say this as strongly as I can: Most Christians (especially in the West) have no idea what real religious persecution is. OpenDoors, Voice of the Martyrs, and similar organizations give real examples of real persecution of real people. Check them out. (and pray for them)

Most of what believers call “spiritual warfare” isn’t.

So why would I make such a bold statement? Do I believe spiritual warfare doesn’t exist? Nothing could be further than the truth! Spiritual warfare is very real. Believers are victims of spiritual attack every single day. But most of what believers call spiritual warfare isn’t. Believers can be very nearsighted about spiritual warfare just like we are about “persecution”.

Most believers think they’re under spiritual attack when they get sick, or when they run out of money before the end of the month, or they lose their job, or when their car gets a flat on the way to church. Some of this may be spiritual warfare, but most of it isn’t.

Paul tells the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Most of the armor is defensive; it protects you from attack from the front. But notice that there’s no protection to your back if you tuck tail and run in heat of the battle!

But there’s one key piece of the armor that isn’t spelled out as clearly as the others. It’s easy to see that the sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon. But if you don’t see it in this passage, you completely miss the other offensive weapon!

Paul mentions it at the end of the list: the spear of prayer. Unfortunately, since he doesn’t spell it out like he does the others, it doesn’t make it to the picture hanging in our Sunday School classrooms and Children’s Picture Bibles. And not seeing this piece of armor in this passage prevents you from learning to use it in one of the key aspects of the very nature of the warfare!

Spiritual warfare is well, spiritual warfare. Things happening to you in the physical realm may or may not have a counterpart in the spiritual realm.

Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.” Ephesians 6:12 (CSB)

He begins the next sentence, “For this reason“. Because the war field is in the spiritual realm, we have to take up spiritual armor. A good friend of mine has rightly said, “You will never win a spiritual war with a fleshly weapon.” Elsewhere, Paul expounds on the nature of spiritual weapons.

For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience is complete. 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 (CSB)

Our weapons destroy strongholds, arguments, and anything else that rises up against the knowledge of God. We use our spiritual weapons in the spiritual places to accomplish spiritual purposes namely, to point our eyes to God so we can worship and obey him.

Getting sick, running out of money before the end of the month, losing your job, and getting a flat tire can happen to anyone: believers and unbelievers alike. What you do when those things happen is where spiritual warfare can occur. But most of the time, only believers are attacked spiritually when those things happen.

The spiritual warfare occurs when those things cause us to lose focus from thinking about God rightly, when they keep us from worshiping Him, and when they keep us from obeying Him.

Yes, spiritual warfare happens in spiritual places, and one of the battlegrounds is the mind of the believer. That’s why we need to put on the whole armor of God so that we can stand our ground. Note that Paul mentions standing three times in four verses. Standing in spiritual warfare must be pretty important!

Application

Whenever you feel that you are under spiritual attack, ask God if that’s what’s up. He’ll tell you. And if you are under attack, Paul tells you what to do: Put on the full armor, not just a few of your favorite pieces.

Catching a nail in your tire on the way to church isn’t spiritual warfare. But if that causes you to question the goodness of God in allowing it to happen in that place at that time, it is spiritual warfare. If it causes you to not thank God for His provision of a helpful stranger to change your tire, and if it keeps you from using the opportunity to share the gospel with him, yes, it is spiritual warfare.

So to deal with this spiritual battle in a realistic way,

  • You put on your helmet of salvation to protect your thoughts as think about God’s wise provision in the timing and location of this.
  • You grab your shield of faith to reject those attacks that suggest that God isn’t in control and that this flat tire caught Him off-guard.
  • You draw your sword of the Spirit and meditate on Bible verses you’ve memorized on the goodness and faithfulness of God; you use those verses to attack those thoughts questioning God.
  • You protect your heart with the breastplate of righteousness to keep your heart right before God in this battle.
  • You hold it all together remembering the truth that all of this is about maintaining your focus on Jesus, worshipping Him and obeying Him.
  • You put on your shoes to be ready to share the good news of peace with God with this stranger.
  • And you offer to pray for this helpful stranger; he may have a need for you to pray with him about. Also pray for the helpful stranger to respond to the call of the Gospel and you thank God for the opportunity to be His instrument of reaching out to this stranger.

God’s Word is very applicable in showing us how to win spiritual battles. If we will just step back to get our focus on God, worship Him, and obey Him.

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Today’s Bible reading presents a difficult visual. Paul appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1-2)

Look carefully at what Paul says. He appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices in the light of God’s mercies. He doesn’t give the appeal in a vacuum. It’s in the context of the last few verses of Chapter 11.

In just three verses (Romans 11:30-32), Paul uses the word mercy four times before launching into a hymn of praise. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss the connection between 11:30-32 and 12:1, given the chapter division in our Bibles. Given that our daily readings were broken between chapters eleven and twelve, the problem is compounded. But in Paul’s mind — and in God’s mind — the intended connection is there.

It’s in light of God’s mercies, Paul invites his readers to die. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to die. Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he should deny himself and pick up his cross daily. (Luke 9:23) A cross was an instrument of death. Picking up one’s own cross is a willingness to die. And picking up one’s own cross is a daily choice. Paul’s choice of grammar in Romans 12:1 means that one doesn’t just make a one-time sacrifice. It’s a continual sacrifice.

It’s in light of these mercies that he appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Could Paul have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 when he made this statement? I think so.

Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB)

Paul says that because God’s Spirit lives in us and we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, we can — and should — glorify God with our bodies. Actually, the context suggests that glorifying God doesn’t stop with our physical bodies; it extends to all that we are and all that we have, not unlike the Great Command to love God with all that we are. (Matthew 22:37)

Presenting all that we are is a daily choice. Every day we make the choice of staying on the altar … or crawling off.

The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!

Application

Every single day, each of us has a choice to make. Am I going to continue following Jesus? Am I going to die to my choices? Am I going to pray that His will be done, realizing that that includes that my will not be done?

Every. Single. Day.

Will you stay on the altar? Or will you crawl off?

I like the way that Eugene Peterson translated Romans 12:1-2:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1–2 (The Message)

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