Tag Archives: prayer

Today’s Scripture – June 6, 2018

Luke 22:45-46 (NIV) When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Jesus has specifically instructed the disciples to pray that they would not fall when temptation came (v40). But after He had finished wrestling in prayer, committing Himself fully to the path that the Father had laid out for Him, He came back to where He had left them, and found them all sound asleep!

It was understandable why they had fallen into an exhausted sleep. The whole evening had been a rollercoaster of emotions and events. What had started as a joy-filled remembrance of God’s deliverance of His people from Egyptian bondage had taken a decidedly solemn turn with Jesus’ pronouncement that one of His closest followers would betray Him. What had started as a spirited discussion of Jesus’ immanent ascension to the throne in Jerusalem, and their own elevation to His closest cabinet members, had been stopped cold by Jesus’ demand that they focus instead on serving each other rather than on being served. And then had come Jesus’ dire prediction that they would all desert Him in His moment of greatest need, and that even Peter would deny knowing Him three times before the sun came up the next morning.

So here they were, snoring in an exhausted sleep, while the fulfillment of Jesus’ direst prophecy was even then entering the gate to the garden where they were camped. Jesus had been praying hard, and so had been strengthened for the task that lay ahead of Him. But these men that He loved most dearly had been sleeping instead of praying, so the test would catch them weak and vulnerable; they would fail for sure.

Jesus was frustrated, but more than that, He was sad. He was sad that all He saw happening with these, His closest followers, really was coming true. And He was sad at the fear and sense of failure that they would soon experience, and that they would carry the scars of the rest of their lives.

But Judas had not yet arrived on the scene, although he was a very short distance away. There was still time for the disicples to pray that they would not fall when the test came, if they would just shake off this sleepiness and seek God’s face at once.

Father, it is easy to be critical of the disciples, and to believe that we would do better if we were in their place. But all too often, we, too, allow ourselves to get caught up in and affected by the events that swirl around us; to get distracted, and not pray; to try to problem solve instead of turning our hearts to You for wisdom and guidance. And so we, too end up falling, failing the test, and feeling like utter failures for our weakness. Remind us, Lord, that You are the source of all the strength that we need to be successful in every test, and of all the wisdom that we need to see each test coming so that we are prepared. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 5, 2018

Luke 22:39-44 (NIV) Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Jesus knew that His time was very short, measured in minutes, not hours. He had done His best to prepare His closest followers for what was coming, but He knew that they were nowhere near ready. He even felt His own heart pulling back from the anguish that lay immediately in front of Him.

What was needed was prayer, both by Him, and by His disciples. Not prayer for safety, but for the ability to stay in the center of God’s will when things got hard. So, Jesus first urged His disciples to pray that they would not fall when the inevitable temptations came. Then he went a short distance away to pray Himself.

Jesus’ prayer was not what many people would expect. His first petition was that if any other way existed to accomplish the work, that the other way be used. Jesus was no coward, but His humanity quailed at the pain, suffering, and humiliation that was racing toward Him, and He wanted to make sure that there was really no other way before He stepped purposefully into the trap. But if there really was no other way, if this way of suffering and death really was God’s will, then he was completely game.

It was not long before He knew with absolute certainty that His suffering and death on the cross, and all the pain and abuse that would precede it, really was the only way for mankind to be saved. Only the complete sacrifice of the Lamb of God could really take away the sins of the whole world (John 1:29). And once he was certain of that, He prayed more passionately and earnestly, the exertion of which caused His perspiration, despite the cool of the early April evening, to roll from His face and body so profusely and in such large drops, as large as drops of blood, that it rolled off of Him and fell to the ground all around Him.

It is important to note that Jesus did not feel abandoned – God was not far from Him in this moment of deep distress. Instead, an angel from God’s presence appeared to Jesus, affirming for Him God’s plan and His role in it, and encouraging and strengthening Him as He prayed.

Father, sometimes we, too, can see pain and suffering approaching as we walk the path of Your will. And sometimes our humanity also quails at that pain and shrinks away from the suffering, just like Jesus. But here we can see that the solution is not retreat, because that would turn us aside from Your will. It is not reason, trying to talk ourselves out of our fear and trepidation, because fear is not an intellectual problem, but an emotional and spiritual one. The only real solution is simple, heartfelt, passionate prayer, surrendering ourselves completely to Your will, and allowing You to encourage and strengthen our hearts before the trial arrives. Help me to always remember this, Lord. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 22, 2018

Luke 18:35-43 (NIV) As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

This blind beggar couldn’t see what was happening, but there was nothing wrong with his ears – he could hear just fine, and he heard very clearly a large crowd coming down the street into the city. When he heard that Jesus was coming through on His way to Jerusalem, his heart leaped up within him. He had heard all kinds of wonderful things about Jesus of Nazareth, that He had done amazing miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, restoring sight to the blind, even raising the dead! Surely Jesus could heal him!

He immediately began to cry out at the top of his lungs in order to be heard over the noise of the crowd. Jesus was still far back on the street, but the beggar couldn’t see that. He could only hear that the front edge of the crowd was right in front of him.

His cry was simple on its surface, but rich in meaning and full of faith. The title “Son of David” was the vernacular equivalent of “Messiah.” Everyone had been taught that the Messiah would oust the Romans and the Herods, and take over the throne of Israel. As such, the Messiah would have to come from the line of David. So the beggar immediately affirmed that he believed that Jesus was the Messiah.

His words “have mercy on me” were similar to his cries for alms that he used every day. But this time they demonstrated an abundant faith in who Jesus was and in what He could do. He wanted more from Jesus that a couple of coins; he wanted Jesus to restore His sight, and in doing so to restore his life.

Those in the front of the crowd tried to shut the beggar up, but his need drove his voice to even higher decibels, until finally Jesus was close enough to hear him, and had His followers bring the beggar to Him. The beggar had been bold up to this point, and his boldness had brought him right into Jesus’ presence. So when Jesus asked, “What do you want Me to do for you,” there was no timidity in his answer: “Lord, I want to see.” Clear, unambiguous, bold.

Jesus never touched the man; He simply pronounced his sight restored, and suddenly the man could see clearly. The beggar realized in a moment that he was a beggar no more, that his life had just been graciously handed back to him. And now he got to make the decision as to what he would do with it. As Jesus and His entourage began to move on into Jericho, his decision was made, and he fell in with the crowd, and began to follow Jesus.

Father, this beggar’s boldness in prayer, his importunity that would not stop until he received what he desperately needed from Jesus, is exactly what Jesus taught about persistence in prayer (Luke 18:1-8). He prayed, he persisted, even in the face of strong opposition, and he received. Help me to put that same lesson into practice in my own life, so that I can receive what I need each day from Your gracious hand. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 13, 2018

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV) To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is a well-known parable of Jesus. But the context and target audience of any parable must always be kept in mind, including this one. Too often neglecting those two key parts of this parable has led to a theology where people believe that we must constantly emulate the tax collector, claiming forever to be miserable sinners, utterly unworthy to even lift our eyes to heaven.

But the target of this parable is not the average person, but those who were so confident in their own self-righteousness that they have forgotten about the grace of God entirely. They pat themselves on the back for their success in achieving what they consider to be their own right-standing before God, and look down with scorn on those whom they see as less righteous than themselves. Such were many of the Pharisees.

In the parable, Jesus draws a strong contrast between the self-righteous Pharisee (not a parody, by the way; this really was how many of them thought!) who marched into God’s presence believing that they have earned the right to be there, and that God is glad that they showed up, and the lowly, lost tax collector. The Pharisee’s sneering prayer leaves no room for God’s grace, either in his own life, or in the lives of those he so freely denigrates. It is, instead, a hymn of praise to his own righteousness, his own fastidiousness in keeping all of the minutiae of the law.

The tax collector, though, had not come to gloat, but to repent and to seek God’s grace and forgiveness. In place of the Pharisee’s self-assurance, he has only self-awareness of his lost state. In place of the Pharisee’s list of accomplishments, he could only identify himself with the simple label of sinner. Instead of pride, he has only heart-wrenching grief.

The moral is not that we always need to come before God’s throne like the tax collector, in shame and disgrace (unless, of course, we come with a load of sin to confess). It is that no one should ever strut into God’s presence like the Pharisee, proud of our own self-accomplished righteousness. Once we have truly repented and become one of God’s people, the proper way to approach God is neither strutting nor groveling, but in a spirit of grateful thanksgiving for the grace that enables us to be forgiven, to be holy, and to draw near to God in the first place.

Father, thank You for this vital lesson. It really is easy to hold up the tax collector as a positive role model for all Christians instead of just turning away from the model of the Pharisee, Jesus’ stated purpose for this parable. Help me to always approach You appropriately, with gratefulness and thanksgiving for Your grace that saves me and that operates in my life, forgiving me, empowering me, and enabling me to serve You without fear in holiness and righteousness before You all my days (Luke 1:74b-75). Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 12, 2018

Luke 18:1-8 (NIV) Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

 

Luke gives the context for this parable right at the start: it was told specifically to Jesus’ disciples, and it was told to them to urge them to keep on praying and not give up. When we are praying, and an answer does not seem to be forthcoming, it is easy to grow discouraged and give up on the prayers, sometimes deciding that God’s answer much be no.

In the parable, the judge does not represent God, except as a point of comparison. Some teach that this parable shows that God won’t answer a prayer unless the pray-er keeps bugging Him about it, finally deciding that He had better give the answer so that He can get some rest. But, again, the judge is only a point of comparison.

The real truth is in Jesus’ closing lines. If even an unjust judge who cares very little for people can be moved to action by the persistence of those bringing their pleas to him, how much more will God, the God who powerfully loves all of those who pray to Him, be moved by persistent prayer!

But also note that the context of the prayers discussed here is not simply a list of wants. Sometimes God will say no to those requests, if saying yes won’t help that person to be more holy or more effective for God’s kingdom. And it’s not about prayers for those things that are essential for life and for ministry. Those prayers are covered in Matthew 6:33-34, where God promises to provide abundantly for those who seek first His kingdom and his righteousness.

Instead, these are prayers for deliverance from the hands of the adversaries of the gospel, prayers for spirit-fired boldness that makes the pray-er a force to be reckoned with. This was the kind of prayer that was prayed by the disciples when Peter was imprisoned awaiting execution (Acts 12:5). It was not enough in that circumstance for the Church to say a “quick prayer” for Peter; they needed to pray, and to persist in prayer until they saw the answer. And God performed a mighty miracle in response to their persistent prayer.

Father, this parable, and Jesus’ instruction afterwards, gives us a solid middle ground between believing that shooting off a quick prayer is sufficient, and believing that we must beg and plead and somehow pry the gift of deliverance from Your reluctant fingers when we are in trouble. Help me to never fall to one side or the other, but to simply walk down the center, as You instructed us through Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 28, 2017

Luke 11:9-13 (NIV) “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

This paragraph is the explanation of the parable of the persistent neighbor. (Note the word “So” at the start of the section.) the key to this section is the progressive tense of the verbs. A good translation would be “keep asking…keep seeking…keep knocking.” The emphasis is on persistence in these activities, like the neighbor in the parable, as opposed to a single prayer request.

The verbs also progress in intensity, from simple asking, to active seeking, and finally to aggressive knocking at the doors of heaven until the request is granted. The focus is on the definiteness of the need in the mind of the one who asks, seeks, and knocks, and the strength of their desire to have that need met. If the need is small and indefinite and the desire small, so that a single prayer is rattled off and then forgotten, the odds of receiving a response from God is correspondingly low. But if the need is desperate, driving the petitioner to his or her knees in progressively deeper desperation, the odds of God taking up their need is high.

And we, as God’s people, can pray without fear that He will give us something nasty in response to our prayers instead of what we need. Like the popular adage among Christians that a person should never pray for patience, because God is likely to send more trials in order to help that person to build patience. But Jesus’ teaching show the inaccuracy of that theology, as well as how insulting it is to God. No halfway decent father would give his child something nasty (a snake or a scorpion) instead of a requested need (a fish or an egg needed for food). Love compels them to give what is asked for that is genuinely needed. And God is much more loving than any earthly father.

The bottom line is simply this: when God’s children cry out to Him persistently for what they genuinely need, they can count on Him to provide it for them. If they need sustenance, He will provide sustenance, as He did for His people in the wilderness.  If they need power, He will provide power, just as He did for the people in the first century Church. If they need wisdom, He will provide wisdom. And if they need patience, the power to continue in trying circumstances and not give up, He will provide that, too.

Father, I have tested You in this and have never found You wanting. Thank You for Your faithfulness, Your love, and Your consistent demonstration of care for me. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 27, 2017

Luke 11:5-8 (NIV) Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”

Since Jesus is teaching His followers about prayer, He goes on to teach them about persistence in prayer as well. Many people believe that only one petition is necessary to see an answer to prayer. Still others teach that to pray more than once for something shows a lack of faith. But that is not what Jesus taught.

In Jesus’ illustration, a man goes to a neighbor’s house to ask for bread to feed some unexpected guests. The need is real and, according to hospitality norms in the Middle East, urgent. It would be a strong insult to a visitor to not offer travelers something to eat after their journey. But the poor host has nothing to set before them; not a single loaf of bread.

So the desperate man goes to his neighbor, despite the lateness of the hour. The need is that urgent. He knocks at the door and calls out for help. But the answer that he receives is not encouraging: “Don’t bother me!” The hour is late, the house is dark, and everyone is packed together in the small sleeping area of the house. If the home owner was to get up, he would jostle everyone, possibly waking the children. If he were to light an oil lamp to try to locate the bread left over from the day before, that would rouse the whole household. It’s too much trouble; he is not willing to waken his whole family to get bread for this inconsiderate neighbor.

But the desperate man will not give up. He would rather be shamed before his friend, this sleepy irritable neighbor, by asking for what he desperately needs than to be shamed before his visitors by returning empty handed. So he knocks and calls out louder and more desperately, until his friend stirs himself and gives him what he needs.

The short lesson is not that God is irritated when His people ask for what they need each day, or that we must rouse Him from His slumber before He is willing to grudgingly accede to our requests. It is simply that if the friend is willing to get up and disturb his whole family in response to the persistence and shameless boldness of his friend in need, how much more will God respond to the persistent and shamelessly bold request of His own people when we are in need.

Father, I really appreciate this word, and the encouragement to not only ask persistently, but boldly for what I truly need each day, my “daily bread.” I don’t have to come to You ashamedly, because You Yourself have instructed me to come before You daily and ask. Thank You for the promise, and the encouragement. Amen.

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