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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Why I Don't Pray, Part 2

When I don’t pray, why don’t I pray?  That is what we’re considering in a short series of articles aimed at not only identifying common reasons for prayerlessness, but also proposing ways to overcome prayerlessness. (You can read the first article here.)
When we don’t pray, it may be because we don’t see the value of prayer.  And there are at least a couple of senses in which we may not see its value.  First, we don’t see the value of prayer to our own spiritual vibrancy.  In other words, we sometimes forget that prayer is one of the three tools that the Lord uses to sanctify us.  As we’ve noted numerous times, if we leave out any one of those three tools, we can expect spiritual stagnancy to follow.  We must recognize that prayer is vital to our daily spiritual vibrancy.
The example of the psalmist shows that prayer serves to orient our hearts toward the Lord.  The Psalms are largely prayers.  For the psalmist, prayer so often was simply the act of taking his thoughts and emotions captive and submitting them to the Lord (Psa 4:1; 39:12; 42:1-11;86:1-17; 102:1-28; 142:1-7).  The Psalms take human thoughts and emotions of all kinds – thoughts and emotions that easily could have remained focused on the things of earth – and re-focus them on God.  In that way, they teach us that if we are having trouble getting into our Bible reading, prayer is a great way to orient our minds and hearts toward the Word (Psa 119:36).  If we find ourselves not wanting to go to church or not wanting to serve our friends or family, prayer refocuses our hearts on the Lord and the blessings of serving Him. 
As I look back on my own spiritual walk, I find that the more I pray, the more I want to pray.  The less I pray, the less I want to pray.  This should indicate what a valuable component of my spiritual life prayer is.  When we don’t pray, it’s frequently because we’ve lost sight of its value to our spiritual vibrancy.
Second, we may also have lost sight of the value of prayer in the sense of its power to accomplish things.  How many of us have thought or lived as if, “God is going to do what God is going to do regardless, so why pray?”  But that is one of the most unbiblical things that could ever cross our minds.  The idea that prayer is useless because God is sovereign is completely backward thinking.  The uniform teaching of Scripture is that prayer accomplishes things because God is a God who is sovereign.  He is a God who listens to the prayers of His people and He is an all-powerful God, capable of accomplishing their highest good.  The biblical command to pray and the biblical teaching that God is in absolute control of things are not incompatible truths.  God’s absolute control is why prayer works.  Who else is going to answer prayer so that it accomplishes something?
The Bible is filled with examples of God’s people praying and God answering in mighty ways (Exo 8:30-31; 32:1-14; Num 11:1-3; 21:1-9;Josh 10:12-14; 1 Kings 18:20-39; 2 Kings 19:1-37; 20:1-7).  Church history is filled with examples, too.  Perhaps if we obeyed the Lord Jesus and prayed with faith, our lives would be filled with such examples as well (Matt 21:18-22; John 14:13-14; 16:23).  The fact is that the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (Jas 5:16).  When we don’t pray, it’s frequently because we’ve lost sight of the power of prayer to accomplish things.
So how do we overcome this wrong thinking about prayer?  A great place to start would be to read, meditate on, and believe the passages referenced above.  If we really believe the Bible is God’s Word, we’ll pray in response to the things we find there.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

New Wednesday Night Study: Walking in the Excellencies of God

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” – A. W. Tozer
There exists in the minds of some a hard distinction between life and theology.  They believe that theology is a pursuit for those especially interested in Bible trivia or who want to be seminary professors.  It’s an unnecessary path for those who simply want to live a faithful Christian life.  They reject the study of the theology because they perceive it to be impractical.  They don’t see any way that it benefits their growth in Christlikeness.
However, rightly understood, theology is the vital foundation of a life lived for Christ.  Strictly speaking, theology is the body of everything we believe.  All who would know God should be students of theology. 
For a believer to say, “I just want to be a faithful Christian; I’m not really interested in theology,” is akin to a husband saying, “I just want to be a good husband; I don’t really want to know anything about my wife.”  The two cannot be separated.  For a husband to grow in his loving service to his wife, he must learn her.  Likewise, for a believer to grow in faithfulness, he must grow in the knowledge of the truth about the God he serves.
To that end, the believer must be a tireless student of the excellencies of God.  If, as 1 Peter 2:9 teaches, we were chosen to proclaim the excellencies of Him who saved us, we must know what those excellencies are.  We must know the glorious attributes of our God and Savior, and we must be prepared to proclaim them not only with our mouths but with our lives.  That is, we must live in light of the excellencies of God.  We must live in ways that demonstrate to the world around us our conviction that these things about God are true.
Which brings us back to the concept that theology and life are inextricably bound.  If we believe that certain things about God are true, it should lead us to live in a particular way.  If God is in meticulous control of all things, we should live in a particular way.  If God is omnipresent, we should live in a way that reflects that.  If God is triune, there should be things in our lives affected by that truth.  The things that we believe about God should impact the way we live.  And more than anything, for the redeemed, it should impact our joy.
So beginning on September 7 at 6:30pm at the church, we’ll be starting a study of the excellencies of God with a view toward the practical results of knowing and loving and enjoying all the facets of His nature.  Right now in the midst of your circumstances, why does it matter that God is timeless, unchanging, impeccable, immanent, self-existent, immense, or transcendent?  Come to the study and find out!  The name of the study will be Walking in The Excellencies of God.  I hope to see you there!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Why I Don’t Pray

The title of this article may be a bit startling.  It’s not intended to be a statement about my lifestyle.  I simply want to discuss the reasons for seasons of prayerlessness in the lives of believers.  We all have seasons – sometimes long seasons – of prayerlessness.  There could be any number of reasons and perhaps if we are aware of them we can address them and bring such seasons to a close.
When I don’t pray, one reason may be that I don’t feel my need for God.  That is, I’m not consciously aware of my need for Him.  It’s not that I don’t know that I need Him.  I always have that theological knowledge.  I would never be so foolish as to think that I don’t need the Lord.  But there are times when my need for Him – the breadth and depth of it – is not at the front of my mind.  My circumstances are not always pressing the awareness of that need upon me, and those are times when I may find myself in a season of prayerlessness.
Have you ever noticed that when you are in a crisis no one has to remind you to pray?  You don’t need to put it on your calendar and you don’t need to make it a matter of strict discipline.  Rather, you sense your need for the Lord moment by moment and that sense of need draws you to prayer spontaneously.  This is one of the reasons that a good old fashioned crisis can be a great blessing from the Lord – it presses upon you an awareness of your need for Him and calls you to confess that need in prayer.
So what should we do when we are not in crisis?  Purposefully remind ourselves of our need for the Lord.  Here’s a suggestion: make a list of all the ways that you need Him.  Everything you can possibly think of.
“I need Him to hold the atoms of my body in existence by the word of His power.”
“I need Him to keep my heart beating.”
“I need His sovereign power to perform the millions of chemical reactions taking place in my body right now that enable my mind to think, my digestive system to process food, etc.”
“I need Him to lead me not into temptation, but to deliver me from the evil one.”
“I need Him to cause me to persevere in the faith.”
“I need Him to preserve my life from evil men.”
Make the list as exhaustive as you possibly can.  Then take the list and pray it to the Lord, asking Him to do those things.  Pray that He would perpetually impress upon your heart your great need for Him.  Jesus modeled this for us when He taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread…forgive us our debts…lead us not into temptation…”  We need Him for absolutely everything.  And when our circumstances aren’t reminding us of that, we should remind ourselves.
To be continued…