Tag Archives: prayer

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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Today’s Scripture – August 9, 2017

Luke 6:27-31 (NIV) “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

This section of Jesus’ teaching about how to deal in the way of the kingdom with those who use their power, authority, or strength to cause harm to us. And, before their lives were over, Jesus’ followers would have ample opportunity to put these principles into practice.

In most areas of the world resistance, even escalating to armed resistance, is the normal response to oppression. But when the people of the kingdom are oppressed or persecuted, the twin agendas of love and kingdom growth and expansion are to take priority over self-defense. Love is to be shown when hatred is evident; blessing is to be given for ever curse received; and passionate prayers are to be prayed for the forgiveness of those who mistreat us. (These were clearly demonstrated by Jesus on the cross – Luke 23:34.)

In addition, non-resistance is commanded toward those actively exercising authority against the cause of Christ, because resistance and fighting can never turn an enemy into a follower of Jesus. So if someone strikes us, the command is to keep showing love, and to turn the other cheek. If someone takes our clothes, we are not to resist, just love and pray for them. And if someone takes what belongs to us, we must remember that it actually belonged to God anyway, and not set up an adversarial relationship to get it back.

The cap to all of this is the so-called Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you. In other words, even when wronged, we are to put ourselves into the other person’s shoes and ask ourselves, “If I was them, how would I want to be treated?” and then treat them that way. This applies whether the person is just someone we meet, or, as the context clearly indicates, someone who is actively persecuting us.

Many push back against this, figuring that it will only lead to our ruin and being continually being taken advantage of. But it is the same rule that Jesus Himself actively lived by, and his life was continually blessed! Admittedly, the way of the kingdom is radically different from the ways of the world. But, at the same time, the goals of the kingdom are radically different form the goals of the world.

Father, obviously Your ways are higher and better than the ways of this world. But they are so different that they do not come naturally to us. They seem too strange, almost too dangerous. Lord, if I am going to live effectively in Your ways, I need to be transformed in my mind and in my heart. Please work that complete transformation in me so that I can live every moment of my life in the ways of Your kingdom. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 4, 2017

Luke 6:12-16 (NIV) One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Jesus prayed constantly. But before important decisions and events, prayer was even more important to Him.

This decision, who would be in His inner circle, was not just important, but vital to His mission. Those that He chose would be the ones who would walk most closely with Him through the next two years, who would receive authority from Him to heal diseases and cast out demons, and who would be sent out to preach the good news of the kingdom ahead of Him. They would also need to go out after His ascension and continue the growth of the kingdom of God all over the world. So Jesus prayed through the night until He knew for certain which of His followers the Father had chosen for these vital roles.

The men Jesus selected were unremarkable. He did not choose spiritual superstars from among the Pharisees who followed Him. Nor did He petition well-known priests or Levites. He chose common working-class people, like fishermen and tax collectors. The one thing that they had in common was that they had all left behind their families and their livelihoods to follow Him.

Many question the selection of Judas Iscariot to be one of the inner circle, especially if Jesus was able to see into the hearts of people (John 2:25). Didn’t He know that betrayal was in the soul of this guy? Actually God knew precisely who Judas was and what he was capable of, and so did Jesus. By selecting him, by keeping him in His inner circle, by even allowing him to participate in the power of the kingdom, Jesus gave him every opportunity to turn aside from the path of betrayal, knowing that ultimately he would sell Him out anyway.

Father, I appreciate the fact that Jesus chose ordinary people to be in His inner circle instead of spiritual superstars. It helps me to see that Your kingdom is for ordinary people, like me. Jesus taught, and empowered, and transformed those regular guys, just like He teaches, and empowers, and transforms regular people today, and remakes them into genuine saints. Help me, like Jesus, to never write someone off as a candidate for Your kingdom because they are a nobody, nor to exalt somebody in my estimation because they are well-known. Instead, help me to focus on who You have called and remade each of them to be. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 18, 2017

Luke 4:42-44 (NIV) At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

It was a really good thing having Jesus in town. He was far better than any doctor; He could heal any disease you could think of, and do it for free! Plus, He could cast out demons to boot!

In the morning when people came to Simon’s house for more healings, Jesus wasn’t there. They searched for Him, and found Him at the edge of town, praying in a quiet place.

By any measure, Jesus’ ministry would be considered a huge success by most people. He had people seeking Him out, and He had brought healing, wholeness, and freedom to dozens of people in a single day. But Jesus wasn’t feeling that successful. He had not come to be a great faith healer or exorcist. Those things were incidentals, the side effects of His real ministry, which was to preach the good news of the advent of the kingdom of God to God’s people.

Jesus could have just set up shop in Capernaum and been comfortable for some time, but He knew that that was just another temptation. He had been given a specific job to do by the Father for this stage of His ministry, and to not do it would be disobedience, no matter how successful He might seem to be.

Despite the protestations of the folks from Capernaum, He left that very day, and continued to spread the good news of the kingdom of God everywhere He went, all through Galilee and Judea.

Father, sometimes we see a way ahead that looks easy and “natural.” But often that way is the way of disobedience. The only way we can know Your way is not by how it looks to us, but by the clear leading of the Holy Spirit, pointing the way, and prodding us when we slow down or turn aside. Help me to always seek Your way, even if it looks treacherous, even if it means turning away from ease and public acclaim. Help me to be ever faithful to Your calling on my like, just like Jesus was. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 3, 2017

Matthew 26:39-46 (NIV) Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Jesus’ heart was so heavy that His main desire was to pray, to commune with the Father before everything started rolling forward. He knew that He was standing on the precipice, and had to take the leap into the yawning abyss at His feet of His own free will.

But He also knew that once He jumped, there would be no turning back, no opportunity to second-guess His choice. If He left the garden right then, just slipped away into the shadows, the betrayal would be fruitless; the trap would spring on empty air. But the task would still lie out there undone. Mankind would still be lost, and all that He had done up to that moment would become worthless.

But, at the same time, His humanity wanted to shrink away from the pain, the degradation, the suffering that lay before Him. And His divinity wanted to shrink away from the stain of trillions of sins poised to fall on His shoulders, and from the sudden separation from the Father that would result. Never before had there been such a gargantuan battle in the soul of one person.

The key to victory lay in the simple words, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” In these words, Jesus chose to submit Himself fully to the will of His Father. He would take the plunge. He would not run and hide, but would boldly march forward and willingly endure that path laid out for Him.

It did, however, take three rounds of prayer before He gained the full victory. Three times His flesh and His spirit tried to draw back, and three times He recommitted Himself to God’s will, God’s plan, regardless of the cost to Himself.

Sadly, His inner circle of disciples was of no help at His time of greatest need. They were mentally and emotionally spent from the strange events of the evening, so they simply fell asleep as soon as they sat still. And they could not get the victory over their exhaustion, despite Jesus’ exhortation to stay awake and pray with Him.

So He prayed alone. He gained the victory alone. And He let His disciples sleep until the moment was upon them, and the trap about to spring. They would be scattered for now. The foreseen and foretold denial would happen just as He had warned them. But the time for His leap into the abyss was upon Him, and He was ready to jump.

Father, so often we focus our attention on the sleeping disciples, trying to learn the lesson of not letting You down when You call on us. But we miss the Herculean battle raging in Jesus’ own soul, and fail to learn the lesson of true submission to Your will. Jesus had been intent on doing what He had been sent to do, on finishing His mission, long before this moment. And it was only that firm resolve, steeled well in advance of the crisis, that enabled Him to stand firm no matter how much His flesh and spirit recoiled from the pain and suffering waiting for Him, now mere minutes and hours away.  Lord, You have placed a call on my life, too. I need to learn from the disciples’ failure, yes. But even more, I need to learn from Jesus’ success. Help me to stand firm in Your calling, to move forward boldly in Your strength, and even to leap willingly into the abyss when the time comes. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 10, 2017

Matthew 21:18-22 (NIV) Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.  Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves.  Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!”  Immediately the tree withered.
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed.  “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Far from cursing this fig tree out of mere hunger or moodiness, Jesus was actually making a powerful point that had nothing to do with the tree, and everything to do with His encounter with the chief priests and teachers of the law the day before.

Many in Jerusalem, including all of those there for the Passover, were hungry for a real relationship with God, and looked to those leaders not only for direction on how to accomplish that, but for an example of how it looked in the real world.  After all, who were the best people to look to for than that these men who taught the Scriptures, and who were able to enter the actual presence of God?

But, as Jesus knew well, these men had nothing to offer those hungry souls but empty platitudes and the sayings of rabbis long dead. They looked good on the outside, they had an impressive display of leaves, but there was no fruit from their lives to feed those hungry souls.

When Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree, it was a symbol of God’s curse falling on those Jewish leaders whose fruitless lives actually erected a barrier between the hearts of seekers and God’s heart.  And the withering of the fig tree demonstrated the ultimate effectiveness of Jesus words of denouncement.  This was no mere statement of frustration, but a powerful denouncement from the very heart of God, delivered by Jesus’ lips.

The disciples would understand all of this later but right then their attention was riveted on the tree.  They were at a loss to understand how mere words could have that kind of effect.

Jesus took the opportunity to explain to them a bit about faith.  Real faith isn’t worked up from within the human heart.  It always originates in a promise or command from God.  In this case, Jesus knew God’s heart, and pronounced His words.  That is faith.  And the tree withered on the spot as a result of Jesus knowledge that His/God’s words would have the effect that God wanted.  When God makes a promise to someone and they act on that promise, that is faith.  And when God issues a command, even if it is to order a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and that command is obeyed, that is true faith, and the very mountain will be moved.

Father, two requests come to mind as I read these words.  First, help my life to be genuinely fruitful, not just a show of barren leaves on the outside.  May those who long for a real relationship with You be able to come to me, and find not just words and theology, but a real living example of life in Your kingdom.  Second, help me to have real mountain-moving faith.  Help me to hear Your heart, to listen to Your voice, so that I can move and act in perfect accord with Your promises and commands, and so that Your will, even as far as mighty miracles, can be accomplished through me.  Amen.

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