Tag Archives: prayer

Fanning the Flame #9–Book Review

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One of my assignments for this month’s Fanning the Flame team meeting, was to read and book and write a book report.  Here is my finished product.

PRAY WITH YOUR EYES OPEN

BY Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

 

Richard Pratt, who is a professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, examines prayer by dividing it into these three basic components:  God, the Believer and Communication.  Each section of the book addresses one of these categories.

 

Looking at God

  1. View God through the eyes of a servant—recognize our total dependence upon Him
  2. Describe God as you pray—for example when you pray for guidance, you might call Him “good shepherd”; when you pray in grief, think of Him as “comforter”
  3. Use metaphors and comparisons in our prayers—call God “my rock” or “my shield”
  4. Broaden your focus by praying in detail about God’s activity in salvation history, past and present. For example, you could contemplate the details of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Thinking about the Bible story in prayer will draw you into the sweep of the divine drama that is still unfolding
  5. Being guided by Scripture sense God’s presence by picturing God in His heavenly dwelling.
  6. Remember that God is everywhere, He is with you to protect you. Imagine walking with Him in the garden, and allow Him to take you away from the worries of the world.

Looking at Ourselves

  1. Open your heart honestly to God, praying about all your feelings, positive and negative, without allowing the negative ones to lead you into irreverent grumbling or rebellion
  2. In your mind, paint a vivid picture of yourself and your circumstances: are you feeling lost in the desert, rejoicing on the mountaintop?
  3. Trust in God’s goodness; don’t be motivated by greed or selfishness
  4. Reflect on your personal blessings, and God’s care for the world
  5. Reflect on God’s will with a desire to see the world changed.
  6. Be open to God’s response.

Looking at our Communication

  1. Maintain a proper balance between form and freedom: because God is our father, it is appropriate to speak with Him in an informal, spontaneous way;  because God is our king, it is also appropriate to plan our prayers and speak more formally
  2. Don’t spend so much time taking or writing down requests, that you must hurry through the actual prayer.
  3. Prayer should be urgent and persuasive: focus on God’s people, the world around you, and God Himself.
  4. Take time to tell God the story of what He has done in your life. This gives strength and joy.
  5. Prayer can be more than words: strong feelings may demand weeping or singing, kneeling or raising hands.
  6. Practice prayer—your prayer lives, like any other skill, will only develop if you practice.
  7. Consider taking a prayer retreat, or setting aside an entire day for prayer.

 

Corporate prayers can become lifeless through repetition.  Some suggestions are:

  1. Have a special emphasis for a month, week or quarter
  2. Use prayer to celebrate a special occasion
  3. Plan a group prayer retreat

Throughout the book, Pratt relies heavily on the Psalms as examples and illustrations for his points.

I read this book quickly and that does not do it justice.  Each section includes discussion questions and exercises.  In our vision narrative, Beth Ann mentioned we might have small groups devoted to the study of prayer.  This would be a great book to read and work through with such a group.  If you read it as individually, it would be best to read one chapter a week and taking the time to journal and try some of Pratt’s suggestions.

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Fanning the Flame #8 Continued … How should I pray?

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I once read that we should pray as we can, not as we can’t.  I need to work within my own way of prayer to make it better, not try to force myself into a mold I admire in others.  Satan sometimes whispers in my ear that the way I pray isn’t really valid.  How do you know you’re not just talking to yourself?  Why do you think that idea came from God, it’s just what you want to do anyway.  Why would you think God is using you, you’re not so special!  To counteract this,  I need some reminders that keep me focused on God while I go about my daily life of prayer.

I’ve started a daily routine of taking a walk early in the morning.  I’ve decided to use this time (usually about 15 minutes) to ask God to be with me during the day, to guide my thoughts and actions. When I can’t walk due to the weather, I use an exercise DVD.  On these days, as soon as I’ve finished the DVD, I will take a few minutes to close my eyes, relax and meditate with the same intent.

I do feel bad that my husband and I never pray together, except for table grace. This is largely my fault, since Terry knows I an uncomfortable with verbal prayers. In order to improve our family prayer life we have committed to spending some time every afternoon when he comes home from work reviewing our day together.  What went well?  What fell apart?  What upset us?  How did we experience God’s presence?  His guidance? Then we’ll give thanks for the good things and ask for help to do better tomorrow.

I also want recognize more intentionally, the part that study and worship play in my prayer life.  Before I start these activities I will invite God to be with me and help me hear His Word for me.

When I am in a situation where I need to pray out loud with others, I will look upon it as an opportunity to grow spiritually and serve others.  I will recognize that my spiritual life isn’t all about me.  I will ask God to use even my awkward prayers to bless me and those around me.

This is my prayer vision for the coming year.  What’s yours?  The first step in becoming a Godly leader is to pray, pray, pray.

Fanning the Flame #8 — Prayer Vision

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“Pray without ceasing.”  1 Thessalonians 5:17

One of our team assignments for Fanning the Flame this month is to write a personal prayer vision.  This means first describing what my prayer life is realistically like today and then forming a goal to work toward by the end of the year.  I admit that I am struggling, mainly because, for me, prayer isn’t a time I carve out.  I’ve tried having a quiet time, using a devotional, making prayer lists or using prayer journals.  It can’t seem to sustain these kinds of disciplines.  My mind is too unruly.  I don’t like to pray out loud with others. I find myself thinking about the person praying and what I am going to say when my “turn” comes. Words distract me from listening to God, which is what I really want to do when I pray.

Years ago I found this Frank Laubach quote (he was a Congregational missionary) that nails prayer for me:

“I really do believe that all thought can be conversations with thee.”

In the midst of my often chaotic and jumbled up brain, God is there.  The Bible tells us to “put on the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16  I don’t claim to have achieved this, but I do believe He’s part of my thought processes;  He sorts things out, He speaks to me, He guides me.  Sometimes a person comes to my mind and I just hold them up to God.  Sometimes an idea pops into my brain — something I wouldn’t have imagined on my own. Sometimes I wake up with an answer to a problem, which tells me God has been with me even during my sleep, as my mind worked unconsciously.   I don’t need words to pray, I just need to pay attention and listen.  This is prayer for me.

Now there are some other things that “feed” my prayer life.  I have found our Wednesday evening prayer sessions at church deeply calming and fulfilling.  We have a prayer list and pray silently for thirty minutes. It is powerful for me and a good discipline to pray with others this way.  I feel the presence of God and the comfort of Christian unity.

Music is prayer for me, and most especially the familiar words and music of the liturgy.  Here’s what Christian author Kathleen Norris says about that:

“The liturgy of the word is prayer.  You pray the scriptures with, and for, the people assembled and the words go out to them, touching them in ways only God can imagine.”

And of course, we Lutherans know how Luther loved music and St. Augustine of Hippo said:

“He who sings well, prays twice.”

God brings the words of hymns and spiritual songs into my mind all the time.

Study is prayer.  God speaks to me through the words of Scripture.  Often something jumps out in a passage I’ve read over and over yet never noticed.  Sometimes the words of a sermon touch my heart, and I know they are a message just for me.  Sometimes God places a book in my hand or a verse in my mind at just the right time.

My life is my prayer.  When I allow someone to interrupt my schedule because they need help or someone to listen, that’s prayer.  When I learn about my gifts and seek to use them in God’s service, that’s my prayer.  When I try to be “unoffendable” and put the needs of another person first, I am praying.

I don’t know how to separate my prayer life from my life.  Does anyone else feel this way?

This has gotten rather long, so I’ll continue later with my thoughts on how I could grow spiritually through prayer.  Right now I’d like to hear from others — what is prayer like for you?  What helps you to pray?  When and why do you pray?

It may sound as if I’ve strayed off our monthly topic (leaders) but the again, isn’t God our ultimate leader?  And isn’t prayer the way we hear from Him?

 

Pray for Your Pastor

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been reading the book, Prayer:  Finding the Heart’s True Home, by Richard Foster.  This quote on intercessory prayer caught my eye:

“Intercessory prayer is priestly ministry, and one of the most challenging teachings in the New Testament is the universal priesthood of all Christians.  As priests, appointed and anointed by God, we have the honor of going before the Most High on behalf of others.  This is not optional;  it is a sacred obligation–and a precious privilege–of all who take up the yoke of Christ.”

In other words, as Christians, praying for others is our responsibility, something every single one of us should be doing daily.  Maybe you already do this, and if so, you probably think first of those who are ill, experiencing grief, or struggling in some way.  Today I’m asking, as you pray for congregation members, family and friends, missionaries and others do you also pray for your Pastor?  This is something very important that every lay person can do.

As a Pastor’s wife, I assure you, your Pastor needs prayer.  He has the same problems that you do, but often has nobody in whom he can confide.  He wants to be a Christian example to his flock, but still struggles with his own sin and temptations daily.  He loves you and the church, and when things go awry, he may feel he has failed.  His behavior and words are scrutinized every time he interacts with another person, and sometimes misinterpreted.  He spends a lot of time alone, or in hospitals and nursing homes, or counseling those with serious problems.  He can feel depressed and unappreciated.  He has been called to this work, but it often isn’t easy.

I was deeply touched when a member once told me, “my husband and I pray for you and Pastor every day.”  So I encourage you, as lay people, please consider this a ministry you can undertake.  It will strengthen you, your church and your Pastor, and it will mean so much to him.

If you need help, type “praying for your Pastor” into a search engine, and you will find many Biblical suggestions.

 

Actions Speak Louder than Words…

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Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

Yesterday I posted the song “Do Something” by Matthew West.  Not all of us are able to drop everything and run to another country to help spread the Gospel.  We are where the Lord has planted us and I’m sure if he wanted us to run off to another place to spread the Gospel He’d let us know.

Everyday we should go about our lives, being the hands and feet of Jesus.  Much of the time we don’t have to “preach”.  We just need to be.  I have a story I want to share that showed me how much this is true.

One Thanksgiving week quite a few years back, I got a call from my boss.  We were both off work that week for the holiday and she had never called me at home before.  She told me her husband had died in his sleep that morning.  She had woken up to find him in their bed, deceased.  She was quite shocked and upset.  I was being supportive on the phone with her and in the back of my mind I was wondering why she had called me.  Then she said “Would you pray for me?” I guess I could have said that I’d keep her in my prayers (and I did), but I just said of course and started praying.  I did offer to come to her but she had her sister coming and that was good.  I didn’t want her to be alone.

I don’t “preach” at work.  I don’t even have scripture hanging around my desk.  She knew that I was active in my church and that I sometimes took off from work to go on church retreats (Via de Cristo).  We may have had small conversations about faith.  But I was floored that she came to me and asked me to pray for her.

So keep in mind that as you go out into your world that you are “preaching” the Gospel whether you are talking or not.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Praying For One Another

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“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

We lay people need to pray for our Pastor and for each other.  I have found, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that in praying for someone my feelings about them transform.  Often God reveals something that shows me I have been misjudging or misunderstanding them.  Prayer is an important ministry of the laity;  we are never too old, too young, too ill, or too ignorant to pray.  It is such a simple gift we can give others, and one we often neglect.

 

 

Piety and Me

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We’ve been blogging about piety this month and my thought is this:  What does it look like in real terms?  I usually get this vision of a person standing or kneeling with their hands together as in prayer with this light shining off them or a halo over their heads.  Hmmm, maybe not.  OK, how about someone who is always doing something “Godly” like going to church, doing good deeds for others….  No…  How about a monk or a nun who never leave the convent or cloister?

Since we live in a world where we can’t all just run to the nearest convent or cloister, we have to look at this from a real-world view.  We can’t withdraw from the world and spend all our time praying to the Lord and studying the Word.  We need to support ourselves and our families.  So, what do we do?  What does piety really look like and how do we go about starting to live this way?

Let me preface this with the statement that this is my personal view on piety.  I’m still working this out in my own life, believe me, it’s a process and I know that I’ll never see an end to it.  Why?  Because there is no end until Jesus returns.

Piety is personal and is between a person and God.  A person may think that if they do an hour of devotionals in the morning and an hour of Bible study every evening, go to church 2,3, or however times during the week, that they are “pious”.  Not that doing all that is bad, that’s not what I’m saying.  But why are you doing it?  Are you doing all that to impress God?  You want a gold star at the end of the world and a pat on the head? That’s not going to happen.  Doing “works” is good only if it comes from the right place in your heart.  Doing something to impress God or others doesn’t cut it.  Jesus said it like this:

 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Matthew 6:5-6

I think that passage says more about personal piety than anything I’ve seen.  Pray in secret.  Just between you and God.  Stay humble.  Go to church, study the Bible, pray, do devotionals everyday or when you can.  Work it out in your life.  But keep it between you and God.  Cause when you start looking for pats on the head is when you are doing all this for the wrong reason.

Fanning the Flame #6–Seeking God’s Will

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“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me, and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'”  Jeremiah 29:11-13

Beth Ann finished the vision narrative, in which she compiled all the thoughts and ideas that came to individuals on the team as we prayed and meditated on our future, shaping them into what our church might look like and be doing ten years from now.  All I can say is, every time I read through it, tears come to my eyes.  This is the church I want us to be!  This is the church that we can be with God’s help.

The word picture Beth Ann has painted depicts a praying church;  a church where virtually everyone is involved in the ministry of prayer.  Members are growing spiritually, through small groups and individual mentoring, gospel preaching, and Bible Study.  This church is active in many aspects of the community–welcoming in our neighborhood and assisting other community groups and churches in their ministries. They also encourage and sponsor foreign missions and missionaries..  Everyone is encouraged to serve as the hands and feet of Christ to others.  It is a light in the dark world.

Yes, some of our dreams are “big” ones, ones that will really stretch us.  Yes, some of these plans may change as we grow and develop according to God’s timing and will;  but many are baby steps, things we can start doing and changing now.  I’m humbled by the thought of what He might accomplish through one little congregation.

Great things happen when God mixes with us!

P.S. Beth Ann, I’m waiting for your post on what this process was like for you.

The 4 Wills of God — Book Review

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Most of us at some time or another ask the question, “What is God’s will for my life?”  According to author Emerson Eggerichs, the correct question, the one we should be asking, is simply, “What is God’s will?”  He asserts that there are four statements in the Bible which specifically identify a behavior as God’s will:

  1. John 6:40 — Believe in Christ
  2. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 — Abstain from sexual sin
  3. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 — Give thanks in everything
  4. 1 Peter 2:13-15 — Submit in doing right

Dr. Eggerichs asserts that as long as we are keeping these four “foundational” commands we can be assured that we are acting within God’s will and are free to make other decisions based on our best judgement.  He also believes that:

“As the apostle John told us in 1 John 3:21-22, when we keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight, then whatever we ask–as individuals in specific circumstances– we receive from Him.”

I have several issues with this book.  First, I’m not convinced that Bible verses which include the phrase, “this is the will of God” should be singled out as the only, or even most important instructions concerning God’s will.  Paul, in his letters to the churches, lists many examples of appropriate and inappropriate behavior for Christians.  Aren’t these God’s will for us as well?

The 4 Wills of God: The Way He Directs Our Steps and Frees Us to Direct Our Own by [Eggerichs, Emerson]

Second, original sin renders us unable to perfectly or completely follow God’s will, no matter how good our intentions.  If we could do that, we wouldn’t need a Savior.  Our decisions will always be tainted.  Doing our best, or trying, won’t cut it, and doesn’t insure that our motives for decision-making will be pure.

Third, I feel that Dr. Eggerichs comes close to saying we can manipulate God.  If we follow these rules, we’re pleasing to God, and He will give us the things we want, often in surprisingly miraculous and unexpected ways.  Although he is careful to point out:

“Our omniscient God knows what is wisest and may countermand our conclusions”

and

“(we don’t) receive miraculous interventions like this every time (we) pray…”

he gives example after example of God supplying the right amount of money or intervening miraculously to fulfil the need of someone who has prayed and who is “within God’s will.”

The bottom line is, this book may actually damage the faith of some who are disappointed by decisions that don’t work out as they hoped or prayers that seem to be unanswered.  It also promotes a legalistic view that assumes our failures stem from insufficient faith and obedience.

If you would like to learn more about this book and author, follow the link below:

http://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/the-4-wills-of-god

P.S.  In case our readers are wondering why I would post a review of a book I do not recommend, the Lutheran Ladies became reviewers for B&H Publishing some time ago.  We receive free books to review in return for posting the reviews on our blog and on other venues.  This is my first negative review.

 

 

 

Problems or Blessings #2

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I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

Well, I almost blew it again.  Just like Paul in the book of Romans, I know the right way to act, but more often than not, I keep choosing the same old sin.  A little while back, I blogged about how most of our “problems” are really just annoyances or inconveniences, and instead of whining and complaining, we should focus on the actual blessings we’ve received.  Today I had a test of just this sort of situation, and I came close to forgetting all my good intentions.

On Tuesday our church has a regularly scheduled Bible Study at 10:30AM.  I went over an hour early so that I could run off some copies needed for the Wednesday Prayer meeting and the next Fanning the Flame meeting.  I got there only to find a repairman working on the copier!  I got pretty cranky with my husband–after all, he could have called me to let me know what was going on, couldn’t he? I didn’t even bring a book to read (duh, what about my Bible?) and I didn’t have anything to do until class started. What a waste of my precious time.

Then it dawned on me — Joan, this gives you an hour to pray!  No interruptions, no phones, a beautiful sanctuary to sit in — what a blessing!  It calmed me down and I realized that not only did I have my Bible, I had my little Pilgrim’s Guide (a book of prayers of Bible verses from my Via de Cristo weekend) in my purse.  So I spent a peaceful hour thanking God, examining my conscience (something that I evidently sorely need to do), and reading over the chapter we’re studying (which I hadn’t found time for).  And you know what?  After class, I got the copying done, too.  Another first world problem solved!