Monday, February 2, 2015

Becoming Like His Thoughts (1 of 2)

Most everyone feels stressed or anxious at some point. And many reasons exist for our anxieties. But most all of our stress and pressure we feel internally ultimately comes from an external source – usually a person or a circumstance. Now, that doesn't mean that everything external is bad, because we can learn valuable lessons through them (people – Proverbs 27.17; circumstances – Romans 8.28), but external processes cause our internal system to go haywire sometimes or even overload. But, if you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you do have a guide that can counterbalance these external sources. On Jesus' last night with the disciples, He called this guide the Counselor. We generally refer to Him as the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit can make sense of people and circumstances even when we cannot. The Holy Spirit can speak to God for us even when we can't seem to find the words. Romans 8.26-27 says it this way, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

A couple of key phrases in those verses need to be understood before reading ahead. The Spirit will help us in our weakness...He intercedes for us. But who is the us? Saints - those who have put their faith in trust in Jesus. Much of what is in this post may apply to anyone, but the true comfort that can come from communicating with God, and the answers to prayer that are sought, are most likely granted to the saints – or Christians. The reason is that the Spirit of God is calling out. Specifically, it is the Spirit of God within us that compels us to want to communicate with the fullness of God beyond us. Thus, we pray in the Spirit knowing we have a direct connection to God.

So, prayer is the second of the Spiritual Disciplines in this series, and I will briefly cover three aspects of prayer.

First, prayer is expected. Have you ever heard or said the following phrase: “You never called me!”? Why is such a statement made? Because we care about the person and believe they care about us. Thus, during a time apart, there is an expectation that someone might call to let you know everything is ok.

Well, God knows where we are physically. But He wants to hear from us so He can know where we THINK we are spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc. He knows our hearts and mind better than we do, but as we pray, we begin to know what is important to us, and more importantly if what we believe is important to us matches up with what is important to Him.

Again, prayer is expected. In Matthew 6, just before Jesus provides the model prayer, He says, when you pray three different times – vv. 5, 6, and 7. Then, in v. 9, He says, pray then like this. Jesus certainly expected us to pray. And He modeled it as well – many instances reveal Jesus praying. John 17 and Mark 1 include two such instances. Matthew and Mark give us the calling of the apostles, but Luke 6 adds that Jesus went up on the mountain to pray all night before He did so. Elsewhere, Jesus says He only does what He sees His Father in heaven doing. The only way He could know would be to pray.

Paul exhorted Christians to be in prayer constantly. Colossians 4.2 says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, the Christian is told to “Pray without ceasing.” Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther said it this way, “As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.”

How often do circumstances affect you? How often to people affect you? Then how often should you pray? So why don't we pray? Here are five quick reasons.

We don't:

1) Schedule it. We don't want to feel obligated to doing it at a certain time, but we need to make time.

2) Expect anything. The reality is that we don't always see the results of our prayers. But prayer isn't a physical tool, it is a spiritual tool. The reason we often don't see results is because we are looking in the wrong place. Colossians 3.1 says “seek the things that are above” and 3.2 – “set your minds on things above”. Yet, most of our prayers tend to be about earthly (and often health) matters only.

3) Feel Near to God. This is cyclical. We don't feel near to God, so we don't pray and we feel further from God. BUT when we pray we gain intimacy with God which breeds prayer which gains intimacy, etc. We need to simply begin.

4) Feel a Need. Everything is going along fine so no real need to “bother the big guy.” How does our thoughts like this compare to Jesus' thought in John 15.5: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” In verse 7, Jesus continued, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” That's a promise. If you are abiding, and the words of Christ – the Bible – are in you, you will pray according to the Bible – your needs will be God's needs. And it will be done. Compare this thought to Matthew 6 when Jesus said to seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. We won't worry about our needs here if we are focusing on God's desires. I am not even close to this, but this is a great reminder for all of us!

5) See God's greatness or the greatness of the Gospel. Perhaps we are too familiar with the story. Perhaps we have forgotten what mighty God we serve. For instance, "How Great Thou Art" is more than a song – it is a truth that we can never truly fathom. Yet, for as great as He is, He cares about the most minute detail in our lives (He knows the hairs on our head). He wants to talk to us. It is up to us to respond.

Wednesday, I will post Part 2, which will look at two other aspects of prayer and provide some options for application.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

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