banner2 This is one in a series of posts intended to supplement teachings on prayer in the series Soul Script from Troy Church.  My aim is to offer thoughts to help us understand prayer more fully and practical suggestions on how to grow in its enjoyment.
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In another life I worked an office job, designing, uploading, and maintaining online content at a university.  My supervisor in this position had a reputation as being a bit intimidating.  She worked harder than any other three people combined, was incredibly gifted in both her academic field and the arena of technology, and pushed for perfection in all that she did.  If there was one thing she struggled with it may have been the ability to display understanding when others failed to exude excellence.  Like many others who flourish in their pursuits, she did not always have boatloads of sympathy for those who did not display the diligence she did.

For reasons that I’m still unsure of, my boss took a particular interest in my career development.  In a short time, I became recognized as her right hand and experienced great kindness from her.  On only one instance do I remember catching the claws that others seemed to experience somewhat regularly.

With no intention to be dishonest, I mistakenly notified her that I had completed a task that I actually had not begun.  Doing many of the same processes repetitively in my work days, I simply confused one assignment with another.  Needless to say, the reasoning of my error did not carry much weight with her, or any.

The result was a loud, angry, public, insulting tirade.  And, it was aimed directly at me.  As stormed out the door and headed to her office, I felt small.  The tongue lashing certainly wasn’t pleasant, but the biggest sour emotion I was swallowing was the feeling that I had let her down.  The boss that had shown me great favor was now the one I had failed.  It stung.

I don’t like to feel like a disappointment.  Neither do you.

The son who just doesn’t have the physical tools to fulfill his dad’s athletic expectations or the wife whose best effort at dinner cannot evade criticism: it’s disappointing to be disappointing.

Maybe that is why most followers of Jesus seem to shy away from prayer.  If we feel that we aren’t very good at it, we must be letting God down, right?  No matter how loving of a Father He is, if we compare our prayer experiences with some of the passionate pleas found in scripture, we are prone to walk away feeling like we don’t measure up.

Let me share this verse with you.

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight. – Proverbs 15:8 (HCSB)

Make sure that you caught that.  The prayer of the upright, and that’s you if you have accepted the righteousness that Jesus has gifted you and are striving to reflect it, delights God.  Delight.  That is what your prayers bring God.

The act of sacrifice in the first half of the verse was an act commanded by God.  The act was not profane in itself.  The problem is  with the heart.  It was wicked, far from embracing the meaning behind the actions it was presenting.  The heart is the focus.

The same rings true or the second half of the verse.  The heart is the focus.  While we certainly can and should grow in the ability to pray as God commands and provides us to, His focus is not in our oratory skills but on the authenticity with which we approach our Father.  The Father looks at the heart of the upright in prayer.  More than that, He delights in it.

A good dad is exuberant the first time his child try to say “dada” regardless of how it comes out.  The child’s eyes are locked in on Dad, a smile lighting up her little face.  Then she says it, kinda, “doaaddddoooaaaaiii.”  How does the Father respond?  With criticism?  Of course not!  He’s elated, telling the world, “She said, ‘dada’!”

Maybe you’re starting your journey toward becoming a person of prayer and you feel like you can’t get out of the starting blocks.  Or, you’ve struggled for quite some time with prayer and seem to have progressed very little.  Don’t be defeated.

 If your heart in coming near the Father is sincerely seeking the Father, your prayers aren’t a disappointment.  They are a delight.

 

banner2 This is one in a series of posts intended to supplement teachings on prayer in the series Soul Script from Troy Church.  My aim is to offer thoughts to help us understand prayer more fully and practical suggestions on how to grow in its enjoyment.
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My parents live a couple of hours away.  Whether I’m pulling in for an overnight stay or an extended holiday visit, pulling up to their house is always a joy.  My kids start to get excited the moment we turn into their neighborhood and the windows are rolled down for them to scream out  for “Gran and Poppa.”  The comfortable familiar feeling of home finds me along with smiles and hugs from mom and dad.

What if we skipped that moment?

What if I jumped from the car and brushed passed by my parents on my way to raid their fridge?  What would it say about our relationship if warm embrace was skipped over for a rapid entry into conversation concerning work, advice for financial decisions, and questions on how to discipline my children?

Things would feel awkward.  Affections might be questioned.  Why?

Love is always eager to recognize its object.  Respect instinctively acknowledges those who inspire it.

In Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6, He doesn’t teach us to start with our needs.  He commands us away from rushing into our wants and presenting our problems.  He calls us to slow down long enough to realize that we are speaking directly to our Father, the Holy One of Heaven.

Thinking of God as Father is a struggle for all of us on one point or another.  Even the best dad falls woefully short of Almighty.  And, the idea that He is sovereign in Heaven can stretch our minds to their limits.  Yet, our awe of Him is worship.

So, before we pray, we stop to remember and recognize who we are talking to.  We pause to be intentional in the direction of our faith.  There is confidence and affection to be found in being purposeful about embracing our Holy Father.  How, then, might we do that?

PRAY through some verses that acknowledge Him as fatherly (concerned, attentive, protective, pursuing, providing, etc.) and as Father.  Ask Him to help you trust the truths that you are reading.  Ask Him to let your heart believe them and not just your head.  Ask Him to show you the where His Fatherly hand recently been active in your life.

A few possible verses are below.  Try using one each day as you begin to pray.  Search for others like them.  I’m praying for your prayers.  Much love!

Isaiah 64:8
Psalm 103:13
Psalm 68:5
2 Corinthians 1:3
Galatians 3:26
1 John 3:1
Luke 12:32

 

 

banner1 This is the first in a series of posts intended to supplement teachings on prayer in the series Soul Script from Troy Church.  My aim is to offer thoughts to help us understand prayer more fully and practical suggestions on how to grow in its enjoyment.
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Just before Jesus teaches a model prayer in Matthew chapter 6, He gives direction that  has implications for both our heart and approach in prayer.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. – Matthew 6:6

Some think that the room referred to by Jesus is actually more of a closet, a sectioned off portion of some Jewish homes where the valuables of the home were likely stored.  Others understand His words here to be only idiomatic, symbolic expression to refer to a private place of the heart.  If the former view is accurate, if the room is a specific place, its function as the setting of prayer is to help us meet God through prayer in the private places of our souls.  Whether the room is literal or figurative, the thrust remains the same:  we are wired with a need for time that focuses solely on God.

While personal and dynamic interaction with God may sound exciting and appealing, and it should, there is a reality about this opportunity that may not initially excite us:  Intimacy with God in prayer is unlikely if it isn’t planned for.

If you are the kind of person who keeps your day on track with a planner, physical and digital t0-do lists, a calendar, a backup calendar, and sticky notes of all colors, shapes, and sizes, you may not be bothered about the need to plan for time with God.  For the rest of us, though, planning sounds like stress and hard work.  (If you’re the kind of person that has random items fall out of your car when teachers open the door for children in car line, planning may not come naturally.)

Yet, Luke 5;16 reveals that planning to be alone with God was a regular practice for Jesus.  He often withdrew to quiet places of solitude to pray.  Did He have those meetings marked on His calendar months in advance?  Who knows?  We do know, though, that He intentionally walked to places that were far enough away from the noise of life for the sound waves of external distraction to be drowned out.  With every step, He was pursuing a moment of intimacy with His Father.  He knew where He was headed and Who He would find there, and He went there on purpose.

When I take my wife on dates, I get a babysitter.  When we have something important to discuss for our family, we wait until the kids are in bed and set aside time to talk.  We create the context for alone time when we know that it is needed.  Nowhere is it more vital than in our prayer closets, literal or figurative.

At night, I often prepare for the next morning’s time of prayer and scripture.  My laptop is set just in front of the seat that I’ll sit in, the yellow one in the corner of the kitchen.  My notebook is next to my computer.  My pens are next to my chair.  (I know that if I leave all of this to be done early in the morning, it will take twice as long because I won’t be thinking sharply as soon as I open my eyes.  My grogginess may cause all of this to feel like a lot to accomplish, leaving me with a feeling of defeat before I even get started.)  My alarm is set, positioned a good walking distance from my bed so that I have to get up to turn it off.  I try to think of a verse before falling asleep that reminds of the joy found in time with God.

I don’t share all of this so you can copy my plan.  My plan may not work for you.  I share my plan in hopes that it might be a catalyst for a plan of your own.  Find what works for you.  Fight hard to plan for privacy with God.  You won’t regret it.

If you’re looking for a place to start in prayer, PRAY today that God might give you some direction into what a plan for privacy might look like in your life.  Where would be a good spot for you to pray?  When is a time that is free of distractions?  What can you do in advance to prepare the space and time?

 

CLOSER [Sharing Some of My Journey in Hopes of Helping Others] Day 5

THE PRAYER BEFORE.

Thank you for Isaiah 55.  You’ve shown me that I don’t have anything of value that I could bring, nothing which I could trade you that would earn me acceptance or time in Your presence.  You’ve made that which is most rich and valuable, Yourself,  freely available to me.  My role is very simple:  a faith-filled coming to You with a receiving heart.  Let that be true of me now.

READ.

John 18

OBSERVE.

Peter captures my mind.  Fiery, quick to speak, quick to act, Peter.  He had claimed that he would never deny Jesus, even if it meant that He had to die with Him.  It appears that this commitment is still intact as Peter stabs the head of Malchus.  He is ready to die with Jesus if they are going to die together, fighting for what they both believe in.  Piecing together accounts of this story from the gospels, we know that Peter followed from a distance as the arresting crowd took Jesus for questioning.  We also know that He followed in order to see the end.  It’s over in His mind.  Though Peter has witnessed Jesus do miracles, even on this very night, the fact that Jesus is arrested and under Roman guard means that His campaign is over.  So Peter denies Him.  The very thing he said he wouldn’t do.  He does.

Thankfully, we know that Jesus restored Peter after His resurrection.  Peter understood more than ever Jesus’ mission, boldly proclaimed His message, and even died for the sake of Jesus.

What grace from Jesus to heal Malchus, though He is at the head of the party that is taking Him captive.

APPLIED TO ME.

I’m thankful to live on this side of the resurrection.  I wouldn’t have seen the doom of Jesus’ arrest any differently than Peter or the rest of the disciples.  I wouldn’t have understood that what Jesus was doing was actually the single greatest feat of strength ever accomplished.  I would have seen it as weakness.

I think that is why Peter found denial in himself.  He was willing die for Jesus if that meant dying as a fighter, dying in strength, dying to keep the cause going.  He wasn’t willing to die humbly, submissively.  He didn’t see there being any possible benefit in the death of Jesus.  He wasn’t willing to die for reasons He didn’t understand.

I see that in me, Lord.  I see that I’m willing to fight hard and give You everything when your strategies are clear and/or really go well with my thinking.  Until I meet you face to face, there will always be more dying left for me to do.  More sin to put to death.  This idea should not be defeating, but hope filled.  Even in the moments when I don’t understand You or what is taking place around me, especially in those moments, please give me humility and the courage to die to self.

Please show me now if there are currently areas in which You want to do away with the effects of sin and death and replace them with life.  Show me where I’m refusing to die to my self so that You can live.

 

CLOSER [Sharing Some of My Journey in Hopes of Helping Others] Day 4

THE PRAYER BEFORE.

I am especially aware of not being love worthy today.  In feeling that I haven’t accomplished as much good as I would have liked to so far this week, it is harder to want to come near to you.  Thankful that the only worthiness I have before You is that of Jesus, and it’s perfect.  Thankful that I can come on my worst days with the same expectation as I bring on my best days.  Please help my heart and mind to catch up with what I know to be true in this.

READ.

John 17:20-26

OBSERVE.

Verse 20 makes it clear that Jesus is praying for future disciples.  That includes me.  I am one of the ones that Jesus prayed for in John 17.  Verses 21-23 point out that diverse unity of the church is what evidences the authenticity of Jesus to the watching world.  People really being themselves, with all their differences, and really being committed in love to each other.  This shows Jesus to the world.  Verse 23 makes it clear that the love the Father has for me is the same as the love He has for Jesus.

APPLIED TO ME.

It’s awesome to me that You prayed for me in the Bible. I know that you pray for me regularly, but it’s pretty neat to see it in that way. I’m thankful for Your prayers for me.
You’ve placed a strong desire in me to see the Church and Troy Church truly be a diverse community that is truly united. I have come to see that there is no hope for that apart from Your work in our hearts. We need you to reach into our insecurities and the false comforts that we have built up in ourselves and tear them down so that we can see all people as extremely valuable and find that we have all of our ultimate conditions in common. Please lead me and Troy Church to be people that reach across divisions to love people. Please prompt us by Your Spirit.

I’ve probably been told 1,000 times, “when God looks at you, He sees Jesus.” But, today, I guess because I am caught in some defeat of the performance mindset, it greatly moves me to see You say that the Father loves me just as He loves You. I do believe that You can be displeased by my actions, Father. That is clear in scripture. I want to live for Your pleasure. Those things being true, whatever the nature of Your displeasure ever is with Your children, it fits within the reality of the same love for me that You have for Jesus. Please help me to remember this. Please help me to experience this and not just know it intellectually. Please show me more about how You love Jesus so that my understanding of how You love me can grow. All to Your glory!

CLOSER [Sharing Some of My Journey in Hopes of Helping Others] Day 3

THE PRAYER BEFORE.

God, let me see You as You really are.  You are glorified when You are seen, valued, and praised.  I want that to happen in me today, in these moments.  I want to see You.  I know that if I see you more clearly I will enjoy You and praise You.  Thank you for the frequent reminders that you desire to be near me.  Guide me in seeing scripture and in any applications that you may want me to take away.

READ.

John 16:25-28

OBSERVE.

Verse 20 makes it clear that Jesus is praying for future disciples.  That includes me.  I am one of the ones that Jesus prayed for in John 17.  Verses 21-23 point out that diverse unity of the church is what evidences the authenticity of Jesus to the watching world.  People really being themselves, with all their differences, and really being committed in love to each other.  This shows Jesus to the world.  Verse 23 makes it clear that the love the Father has for me is the same as the love He has for Jesus.

APPLIED TO ME.

It’s awesome to me that You prayed for me in the Bible.  I know that you pray for me regularly, but it’s pretty neat to see it in that way.  I’m thankful for Your prayers for me.

You’ve placed a strong desire in me to see the Church and Troy Church truly be a diverse community that is truly united.  I have come to see that there is no hope for that apart from Your work in our hearts.  We need you to reach into our insecurities and the false comforts that we have built up in ourselves and tear them down so that we can see all people as extremely valuable and find that we have all of our ultimate conditions in common.  Please lead me and Troy Church to be people that reach across divisions to love people.  Please prompt us by Your Spirit.

I’ve probably been told 1,000 times, “when God looks at you, He sees Jesus.”  But, today, I guess because I am caught in some defeat of the performance mindset, it greatly moves me to see You say that the Father loves me just as He loves You.  I do believe that You can be displeased by my actions, Father.  That is clear in scripture.  I want to live for Your pleasure.  Those things being true, whatever the nature of Your displeasure ever is with Your children, it fits within the reality of the same love for me that You have for Jesus.  Please help me to remember this.  Please help me to experience this and not just know it intellectually.  Please show me more about how You love Jesus so that my understanding of how You love me can grow.  All to Your glory!

CLOSER [Sharing Some of My Journey in Hopes of Helping Others] Day 2

THE PRAYER BEFORE.

Father, You’ve made it clear in scripture that You are near to me.  An attitude of expectation honors You when it is based on Your character.  Let me find you here.  Apply your word to my heart and my life so that I can know You, enjoy You, and make You known.

READ.

John 16:23-24

OBSERVE.

Jesus teaches the disciples to pray in His name.  Before now, they have not prayed in this way.  Praying in the name of Jesus (for His honor, realizing that we can only pray because of His power, in line with His character) leads to answered prayers and elevated joy.  God has designed me to experience joy when I have desires for His glory, I ask for them, and He fulfills those desires.

APPLIED TO ME.

I know this isn’t a promise to answer every prayer that I pray because I know that I am not wise enough to know what most honors You.  It is, though, a promise that I will see You answer prayers as I love you and pray for things that match Your heart.

It’s too easy for me to trust my thoughts or to get lost in purely intellectual glimpses at the Bible.  Forgive me for that and prompt me when I am wandering there.  I want to have a heart that values You so much that I want what You want.  Please show me where my prayers are self focused.  Please show me where I rush into prayer to say things without listening for what You want.

Take these next few moments and guide me to pray over these people and circumstances.

CLOSER [Sharing Some of My Journey In Hopes of Helping Others] Day 1

THE PRAYER BEFORE.

God, I need you today.  I am thankful that I can come to you confidently because of all that Jesus has done.  Help me to come to you confidently:  confident that you are near, confident that you care and listen, confident that you want to guide my life and will speak to me.

READ.

John 16:16-22

OBSERVE.

The disciples don’t get it when Jesus is telling them that He is going to die but will rise again.  He is patient in teaching them, answering questions that He knows they are asking.  He helps them to see that the greatest joys are sometimes found only after walking through great anguish.  He is honest enough to tell them that this will be their experience.  They are sorrowful now because He is telling them that He will go away.  When He dies, they will hurt more than they can imagine as He is speaking.  He promises that upon seeing Him resurrected they will have great joy that won’t be able to be taken away from them.

APPLIED TO ME.

It’s been a rough few weeks for multiple reasons.  I’m thankful that I can trust You, that I can believe that You can bring amazing joy from deep sorrow.  I still feel heavy hearted in these situations, but I trust that there is joy coming.

One day I will see You face to face the same way that the disciples would after You rose.  I can only imagine how mind blown they must have been to see you again, living after they had seen you die.  I will see you, and I will feel like my heart may burst with goodness and excitement.  I’ve believed in you for so long.  I’ve trusted You.  It will be joy to see You.  And on that day, there will be no removing of my joy.  No one will be able to touch the joy in me then.

Whether that day is tomorrow or years from now, I can experience a lot of that joy now by seeing You through faith.  Bring warmth to my heart now as I trust You.  Help me to see what you are doing in hardship.  In my hurts, help me to remember that I am gaining new depths of knowing You as I suffer just a fraction of what You have suffered.

I’m reminded now that You promise to be with me wherever I go.  Let me be comforted today as I know that the One who knows the pinnacle of suffering is with me in my struggle.

Luke 1:39-56

Troy Church is brewing over this passage as a little homework to lead us up to Sunday.  I promised that I would post a few thoughts here to open a venue for discussion about the text.  See below a few cool textual points, a devotional-ish thought, and a couple of life questions from the text.

  • This passage continues Luke’s highlighting of God’s desire to give average, unimpressive people unexpectedly important roles in His story.  In addition to Elizabeth (the common priest’s wife) and Mary (the junior high girl), the baby John begins his honored task of introducing Jesus all while John is still in the womb!
  • This passage continues Luke’s emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit as Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim the presence of blessing over Mary’s life.
  • Mary’s song is one of the most famous in scripture.  Known as the Magnificat, the hymn’s title derives from the Latin word “magnificat” which means magnify.  This is the first word of the hymn in the Latin Vulgate translation.

In trying to imagine the range of emotions and the fluctuations of faith, fear, joy, and doubt that must have been trying to weed their way into Mary’s young heart, I’m taken by her decisiveness.  Whether she went to Elizabeth’s home in doubt that she would find Elizabeth pregnant or completely expecting this pregnant party, she went.  She had to know.  She could not Read more

CALLING (PART VI)

blog_troy

I’ve only been here 6 months, but I love the city of Troy more every day.  Instead of waxing philosophical about why I’ll just give you my reasons in list form, in no particular order.

1.  I love that everybody in Troy thinks it is a small town.  (Trust me, there are smaller.)
2.  I never have to drive more than 10 minutes to get anywhere.
3.  Milky Moo’s  (milkymooicecream.com)
4.  For a smallish town in lower Alabama, there is an amazing mixture of people here.  Nationalities, religions, hometowns.
5.  University students bring a buzz and energy to town.  (You’re thinking that is the polite way to say it.  I actually enjoy them!)
6.  Friendly people.  I’ve had great conversations about life and about Jesus with some people who are very similar to me and some who are very different.
7.  Milky Moo’s (milkymooicecream.com)
8.  There is a trailer park here that has its own lazy river.  I haven’t made it in yet, but I’m coming!
9.  The eTroy staff.  Though they ridicule me, they keep me laughing and allow me to commute around the office without getting out of my chair.
10.  New friendships.
11.  Easy access to college sports.
12.  People who love God and love people enough to let them be authentic, regardless of who they are.  (www.troychurch.tv)
13.  The weather is pretty much phenomenal.
14.  Close beach proximity.
15.  A local playground where life just seems to happen.
16.  The potential to reach multiple countries with the truth about Jesus by reaching the large international student population.
17.  Milky Moo’s (milkymooicecream.com)
18.  The hope of a long future of discovering more people and things I love about Troy.
19.  Cinnamon roll flavor ice cream, featured at Milky Moo’s (milkymooicecream.com).