“I Have a Dream”


In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate on this national holiday, I encourage you to watch (or watch again) his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28, 1963.

Advertisements

Pentecostals, Race, Justice and Reconciliation | Influence Podcast


In episode 123 of the Influence Podcast, I interview Pastor Walter Harvey about “Pentecostals, Race, Justice and Reconciliation.”

Harvey is pastor of Parklawn Assembly of God in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as vice president of the National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God. He also has the lead article in the January-February 2018 issue of Influence magazine, titled, “A Place Called Sherman Park: Eight ministry lessons that can help bring renewal to communities in chaos.”

 

What Should We Pray For?


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

~~~~~

In Matthew 6:9–13, Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

Notice the pattern of this prayer and the specific requests it makes.

The pattern is vertical and horizontal. First, we direct our attention to God and His concerns; then we ask God to direct His attention to us and our concerns. In Matthew 22:37–39, Jesus says: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Prayer simply follows the pattern of these two great commandments.

The Lord’s Prayer makes six specific requests. First, we pray, “hallowed be your name.” The name of God is revelatory; it tells us about His person and works. According to Matthew 1:21, for example, Joseph and Mary named their baby Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” In Hebrew, Jesus simply means, “The Lord saves.” So, the first thing we do in prayer is praise God for who He is and what He has done. By doing so, we focus on God’s powerful love for us.

Our second and third requests are, “your kingdom come, your will be done.” The will of God is what He wants to accomplish in the world He created and the people He is saving. Through prayer, we prioritize God’s agenda for our lives.

Fourth, we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” In first-century Palestine, most people lived at a subsistence level. They worked as day laborers, earning only enough money to buy what short-term provisions they needed. So, the prayer for daily bread was a prayer for actual bread. In our day, it includes other things. When we pray, we can ask God for whatever we need. Interestingly, there is a connection between doing God’s will and receiving our daily bread. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:33, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink and clothing, among others] will be given to you as well.”

Fifth, we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” When we pray, we seek God’s grace and promise to send it along to others as well. Prayer is the nexus between our reconciliation with God and our reconciliation with other people.

Finally, we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Life is difficult. God uses these difficulties to make us better people. So, when we pray, we must learn to trust God in trying times.

When we pray, we ought to follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer and make its requests our own.

Your Father Knows What You Need


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

~~~~~

Four “how” questions arise from Jesus’ discussion of prayer in Matthew 6:5–15: How often should we pray? Where should we pray? Should we use patterned prayers? And what should we pray for? We have answered the first three questions, but before answering the fourth, I want to take a look at something Jesus says in Matthew 6:8: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Later, He says, “your heavenly Father knows that you need [food, drink and clothing]” (Matthew 6:32).

Why does Jesus tell us that God knows what we need even before we pray to Him? For at least one very simple reason, I think: He wants to assure us that God always has our best interests in mind. Often, we let the anxieties of life pile up on us before we take them to God in prayer. We forget about God until the very moment we realize we cannot live without His help. But God has not forgotten us. “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:26, “they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

God already knows our needs, so when we pray, we can rest assured that He desires to meet them and has the power to do so.

But if God already knows our needs, why do we need to ask Him to meet them? Soren Kierkegaard hints at the answer when he writes, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”

God could meet our needs without our prayers. By asking for our prayers, He meets a need deep within us that we may not even know we have — our need to depend on Him.

Consider what John Calvin wrote in this regard: “Believers do not pray with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things.”

“By our praying,” Martin Luther concludes, “we are instructing ourselves.”

Because God knows all things, including our needs from hour to hour, we can be confident that He will take care of us. This confidence is evident in Paul’s assertion that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Not all things that happen to us are good, of course, but God can turn even bad things to good ends. The real question is whether we love God and express our need for Him.

Should We Use Patterned Prayers?


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

~~~~~

Matthew 6:7–8 says: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Other translations speak of “empty phrases” (ESV) and “vain repetitions” (KJV).

Does Jesus prohibit using set phrases or repetition in prayer? Should we use patterned prayers? No and yes, respectively.

Let me give you two examples of patterned prayers. At meals: “For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful.” At a child’s bedtime: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

Does Jesus prohibit the use of patterned prayers such as these? No! Consider His instructions to the disciples in Matthew 6:9: “This, then, is how you should pray….”

The Lord’s Prayer is a patterned prayer. Jesus not only taught His disciples patterned prayers, He used them himself. His prayer from the cross — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) — is a quotation from Psalm 22. When you read that psalm in its entirety, you see why Jesus prayed it as He died. It is the appropriate prayer for that agonizing moment. In fact, the Book of Psalms is simply a collection of patterned prayers. If such prayers are good enough to be included in the Bible and used by the Lord, they are good enough for our use too.

What Jesus really prohibits is pointless prayer, not patterned prayer. As John Stott explains, He prohibits “any and every prayer which is all words and no meaning, all lips and no mind or heart … a torrent of mechanical and mindless words.”

So, should we use patterned prayers? Yes, but only if they help us express our minds and hearts to God.

I find patterned prayers useful for two reasons: First, they help me say exactly what I want to say. In the morning, I pray, “This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, ESV). When I sin, I pray, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). And when I go to sleep, I pray, “Guide me while waking, and guard me while sleeping, that waking I may watch with Christ, and sleeping I may rest in peace.” Why invent new prayers when old ones express my feelings exactly?

Second, patterned prayers help me organize my thoughts. The Lord’s Prayer presents an outline of prayer. It begins with focused attention on God (“hallowed be your name,” “your kingdom come, your will be done”) and then turns to our needs (“daily bread,” forgiveness, and deliverance from evil). When I pray, I use this outline, adding my specific requests under the appropriate headings. Under “daily bread,” for example, I ask God for whatever I or my family and friends need.

Patterned prayers are simply tools. Use them if they help you get the job done.

Where Should We Pray?


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

~~~~~

In Matthew 6:5–6, Jesus answers our second question about the “how” of prayer: Where should we pray? He says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

We should not interpret Jesus’ words too literally. True, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). But He also prayed in front of others, such as the crowd of 5,000 men, besides women and children, whom He fed miraculously (Matthew 14:19).

Jesus’ disciples also prayed in front of others. According to Acts 1:14 and 2:1–13, it was because of what the crowds saw happening at a Jerusalem prayer meeting that they asked Peter, “What does this mean?” God used the evangelistic sermon Peter preached in response to their question as a tool to convert about 3,000 of them that very day. All because of a public prayer meeting!

When Jesus tells us to pray in our rooms, in other words, He is more concerned about the spiritual location of our hearts than the geographical location of our bodies. He does not want us to be hypocrites, which derives from the Greek word for an actor. A hypocrite acts one way in public but lives another way in private. His onstage role is driven by a need for public approval. Because Jesus does not want our prayers to be corrupted by this hypocritical desire “to be seen by others,” however, He counsels us to pray alone, in secret, behind closed doors. Solitude enhances authenticity. Alone, we are able to speak our real concerns as our real selves to a real God who really cares.

Unfortunately, many people have trouble practicing solitude. We live in a highly individualistic culture, and they feel isolated and alone. When Jesus talks about solitude, they feel creeping pangs of despair. “I am already lonely,” they say to themselves, “must I continue to be lonely to experience God?” No! Solitude and loneliness are not the same thing. Solitude is healthy individualism; loneliness is unhealthy individualism. In the Christian life, there must be balance between solitude and sociality. Without that balance, we can neither be our authentic selves nor experience healthy relationships. So, let us heed Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s warning: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community…. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone….”

Let us make time and space in our lives to approach God in solitude. By the same token, we should not give up meeting together; instead, we should encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). As long as our desire is to be rewarded by God rather than seen by others, we can draw near to Him alone and together.

How Often Should We Pray?


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

~~~~~

We have touched on the whether and the why of prayer. Now we need to pay attention to the how. Four questions arise: How often should we pray? Where should we pray? Should we use patterned prayers? And what should we pray for?

First, how often should we pray?

Jesus does not say. In Matthew 6:5, He begins, “And when you pray…,” then talks about where to pray. Jesus assumes we will pray; He does not tell us how often.

Jesus’ own life suggests an answer, however. According to Luke 5:16, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Luke does not quantify the word often, but his words indicate that Jesus prayed at regular intervals. I think we can safely assume that Jesus observed the set hours of prayer practiced by His fellow Jews. Several clues point in that direction:

  • Jesus’ parents kept the Old Testament laws regarding circumcision, purification, presentation of infants to the Lord and sacrifice, as “the custom of the Law required” (Luke 2:21–27).
  • Not only that, according to Luke 2:41–42, they went to Jerusalem every year for Passover, “according to the custom.”
  • Luke 4:16 tells us that Jesus “went to Nazareth … and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.”
  • According to Acts 2:42, the early church members “devoted themselves … to prayer.” (Without explanation, the NIV translates the Greek plural with an English singular.) The prayer or prayers mentioned here most likely refers to set hours of prayer observed throughout the day.
  • Finally, according to Acts 17:2, “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.”

What emerges from these clues is that Jesus, instructed by His parents and imitated by his protégés, faithfully practiced Jewish customs, including Sabbath observance, synagogue attendance and prayer. If we want to experience God through prayer, we ought to follow Jesus’ example. At minimum, this means making time for biblical meditation and prayer twice daily. Psalm 1:1–2 tells us that the person whom God blesses “meditates on his law day and night.” And in Psalm 88:1–2, the psalmist exclaims, “Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out before you.”

Going further, it means praying whenever a need arises. James 5:13–14 says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them….”

Ultimately, when we have developed good spiritual habits, prayer will come as naturally to us as breathing; that is, we will always be praying. Consider Luke 18:1: “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”

Or Ephesians 6:18: “pray in the Spirit on all occasions … always keep on praying.”

Or 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “pray continually.”

So, how often should we pray? Routinely, occasionally and always!

Two Questions About Spiritual Discipline


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

~~~~~

If you are going to experience God through prayer, you will need a better guide than me. Because I am a minister, I am embarrassed to admit that I am not the greatest at prayer. I experience moments when my prayers lurch along in fits and starts. I often find my prayers directing God’s attention to me rather than my attention to Him. I am not the best guide for your journey.

Fortunately, I am not your only choice — nor do you have to turn to other pastors or spiritual writers. God himself provides ample guidance on how to pray. Remember Hebrews 1:1–2: “God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets … but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son….”

God speaks to us in both the Old Testament (which focuses on the ministry of the prophets) and the New Testament (which focuses on the ministry of the Son).

What, then, does the Bible tell us about prayer? A whole lot, actually. Thankfully, Jesus offers a précis of prayer in Matthew 6:5–15. Those 11 verses are the central part of a larger discussion about acts of righteousness, or spiritual disciplines. They are bookended on either side by teaching about generosity to the poor (6:1–4) and fasting (6:16–18). The entire discussion begins with a warning: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (6:1).

As I read that warning, I find myself asking two questions: Do I practice the disciplines? If so, why — what is my motivation? Take a moment to ponder both.

First, “Do I practice the disciplines?” Generosity, prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines are habits we must develop to become the kind of people God wants us to be. Prayer and fasting remind us of our overriding need for God, for His tangible and spiritual blessings. Generosity to the poor reminds us that there is a greater purpose to wealth than mere acquisition — namely, meeting others’ needs and making the world a better place. Without disciplines such as generosity, prayer and fasting, we cannot love God with all our being; nor can we love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37,39).

Second, “Why do I practice the disciplines? What is my motivation?” Jesus offers two possible answers: to be seen by others or to be seen by God. People who practice the disciplines to be seen by others are looking for a temporary spiritual reputation. But people who practice them to be seen by God are looking for an eternal spiritual relationship. According to Jesus, both groups will get what they want (Matthew 6:2,5,15), but only the latter group will receive what all of us truly need — the reward of heaven (6:4,6,18).

So, do you practice the spiritual disciplines? Why? Your answers to these questions are important if you want to experience God through prayer.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: