Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Category: Mark

The Christian life, in 3 steps. Seriously. (part 3)

The author of Hebrews gave his readers a three step description of what Christian living looks like.  Each step begins with the phrase “let us”.  After drawing near to God and then holding on to our reliance on Him, the next step is this:

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

We can’t do this alone.  We need to be watching out for one another.

How many times have you heard (…or said) the following:

I don’t need to go to church.  I can be with God just fine by myself out in nature.
I don’t need to go to church.  Everyone there is a judgmental hypocrite.
I don’t need to go to church.  I don’t really get much out of it.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is very, very self-centered.

What if we viewed our weekly gatherings as an opportunity to help others in God’s family?  Try this line of thinking instead:

I need to go to church because a little boy needs to know that God loves him.
I need to go to church because a teenage girl needs to know that God accepts her, just as she is.
I need to go to church because a struggling mom needs a smile and someone to talk to.
I need to go to church because a man doubting his marriage needs reassured in order to keep at it.

I need to go to church because we will all encourage each other while we wait for Jesus to return.

We must watch out for and encourage each other.  The perspective we develop when we give Godly encouragement is just as important as the perspective we develop when we receive Godly encouragement.

The rest of the Scriptures certainly bear this out, too:

Acts 20:35
…remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Proverbs 11:25
A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water.

Mark 10:45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If we’re going to live the Christian life…If we’re going to live the Christ-like life…then we need to take the focus off of ourselves.  Encouraging each other is a great way to put our focus on others.

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

Keep Pressing,

The effect of a Christian's unbelief

Just because Christians are in the “Holy” family doesn’t mean that we always behave like we are set apart for God.  This fact was also once recognized by a father of an epileptic boy when he told Jesus, “I do believe!  Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).

The Greek work for unbelief refers to a lack of faith or a wavering amount of trust in someone.  The father believed that Jesus could help his son, but he was wavering on if Jesus would help and how much help He would give.  Unbelief isn’t referring to losing one’s eternal salvation (which does not happen); instead, this unbelief is our difficulty to fully trust what our Heavenly Father says He can and will do.  The author of Hebrews similarly used the same word:

Hebrews 3:12
Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God.

The author is telling his readers that for them to not trust God with what He says about Jesus’ coming kingdom is sinful; however, we are also given encouraging direction on how to combat our unbelief:

Hebrews 3:13-14
But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.  For we have become companions of the Messiah if we hold firmly until the end the confidence that we had at the start.

Our initial confidence in Christ came because we trusted Him with our eternal destiny when we believed Him – that He would take the punishment for our sins and reconcile us with God the Father.  If we apply that same type of confidence in His message (that our choices in this life have future, eternal impact), we will not only avoid a sinful, unbelieving heart but we will also become companions [Metochoi] with Christ and the administration of His future kingdom.

As an example, the author sites what happened after God rescued 2 million Israelites from Egypt:

Hebrews 3:15-19
As it is said:
               Today, if you hear His voice,
               do not harden your hearts
               as in the rebellion. 

For who heard and rebelled?  Wasn’t it really all who came out of Egypt under Moses?  And with whom was He “provoked for 40 years”?  Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert?  And to whom did He “swear that they would not enter His rest,” if not those who disobeyed?  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Same Greek word here for unbelief – after being rescued from the slavery of Egypt, those Israelites didn’t trust God with His plan for the coming kingdom.  The author then uses Israel’s unwillingness to act on what they knew of God as a warning for us:

Hebrews 4:1-2
Therefore, while the promise to enter His rest remains, let us beware that none of you be found to have fallen short.  For we also have received the good news just as they did.  But the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith.

The generation that died in the desert was disqualified from participating in the future country of Israel established by Joshua because they did not trust the messenger God had sent.  They did not faithfully act on the message they had received from Moses.

We likewise have an opportunity to partner with the Greater Messenger – become His Metochoi – if we are willing to faithfully act on His message that we have received.

Keep Pressing,

Stomaching the misconduct of leaders

I think Dr. Thomas Constable was right when he wrote in his notes on 1 Timothy, “Criticism of leaders is a favorite spectator sport.” 

Let’s face it – not everyone is going to agree with or “like” every pastor they come across.  But how should an accusation of misconduct be handled?

As Paul continued his instructions for Timothy regarding the appointment of church leadership, he takes a realistic, yet extremely serious, approach to dealing with leaders who may not be living up the standards their position would require.

1 Timothy 5:19-21
Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses.  Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid.  I solemnly charge you, before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism.

Paul’s directions fit in perfectly with what Jesus taught his disciples about church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17).  Timothy must thoroughly evaluate an accusation against an elder.  One person’s word isn’t sufficient.  However, if the charge proves true – if the elder isn’t living up to the qualifications set forth a few verses back in 1 Timothy 3, then a public rebuke and/or removal from office may be in order.  These steps would correct the issue with the elder in question…but also keep the other elders from falling into the same trap. 

Paul could not have been more serious regarding the importance of going through this process without any prejudice or favoritism.  When Jesus referred to his return with the Father and the elect angels, it was in regard to judgment (Matt 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Rev 14:10).  While we might be tempted to think that a public rebuke is too harsh, it is better for an elder to be confronted now than for them to go on unchecked and then be confronted later by Jesus at the Bema judgement.

In order to avoid these kinds of situations, Paul gives Timothy some additional guidance:

1 Timothy 5:22-25
Don’t be too quick to lay hands on anyone, and don’t share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

Some people’s sins are evident, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others follow them.

Likewise, good works are obvious, and those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden.

Paul’s water vs. wine comment might seem a little strange to us, but keep in mind that wine was used for medicinal purposes in the ancient world.  Purified water from a faucet wasn’t readily available like it is for us.  Even though their water may look fine, there was a decent chance that it was contaminated.  Using a small amount of alcoholic wine would have been beneficial in keeping his digestive tract in working order.

It seems to me that Paul is taking a practical step from Timothy’s life and using it as an example of how to manage the appointment of leaders.  Timothy needs be cautious about appointing someone to represent God and lead others in their relationship with Jesus.  Just because someone seems like a “nice Christian guy” and he can quote a few Scriptures doesn’t mean he should be leading the congregation.  The importance of Timothy taking preventative measures to keep pure would also ensure that the church family would also avoid having to stomach elder-judgement issues in the future.

Bottom line for us?  We need to recognize that our leader’s lives matter.  We can’t expect them to be perfect, but their position mandates a level of blamelessness in order for them to handle this kind of influence on God’s family.  Just like Timothy needed to take appropriate steps in evaluating a leader, we need to do the same when we are considering who we get our Bible teaching from.  Just because they’re on the radio doesn’t mean they are “good” and their teaching is accurate.  Just because they are “really nice” doesn’t mean that we should be submitting to their leadership.  We need to do some work on the front end to avoid being misled.

Keep Pressing,

Prayerful conclusions

When I started this journey to discover how to pray, I had no idea where it would lead.  I began with the premise that if becoming like Jesus is the Father’s aim for us, then if we want to learn to pray…we should pray like Jesus did.

Surprisingly, Jesus spoke a lot about prayer.  He covered a full range of topics – from praying for enemies to what it would be like for His disciples to pray “In Jesus’ name”.  Jesus warned us about praying with the wrong motives, said that how we forgive others will affect our own prayer life, and told us to watch out for leaders who make long prayers for show.

However, there were two qualities of How Jesus prayed that stood out even more than What Jesus taught about prayer.

The first major observation was that throughout the gospel accounts, we found that He was heading off to quiet places to spend time with the Father in prayer.  Whether the crowds were large, or it was only Him and His disciples…Jesus set aside chunks of alone time for prayer. 

Matthew 14:23 After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.  When evening came, He was there alone.

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place.  And He was praying there.

Luke 5:16 Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

Luke 6:12 During those days He went out to the mountain to pray and spend all night in prayer to God.

The second major observation was found in Jesus’ main focus when He prayed.  From the beginning of His model prayer to His ‘High Priestly’ prayer found in John 17, we found that Jesus was consistently focused on the Father.  His primary concern was the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory.  Jesus’ aim was to increase the Father’s glory – which means to enhance the Father’s reputation and honor in the world, and this was primarily achieved as Jesus completed the mission that the Father gave Him to accomplish.

If we imitate Jesus in these two ways, we are guaranteed to grow closer to the Father.  We become what gaze at.  Therefore, spending chunks of our time focused on the Father’s desires and glory will certainly lead us to act, think, and relate like Jesus.

Lastly, as Jesus was dying on the cross, His final cries to the Father found their root in Scripture.  I find it extremely interesting that when everything was a bad as it could get, Jesus’ prayers were direct quotations from two different Psalms.

This final observation will direct our next steps after this study on the Prayers of Jesus.  If we are going to pray like Him when it seems like everything goes wrong, we need to be prepared.  As such, we’re going to look at a couple of psalms and find some spiritual truths that we can grab on to.

For now, though, our best course of action is to purposely dedicate some time with the Father to focus on His glory and His mission.

Keep Pressing,

Public prayer

Jesus and His disciples returned to Jerusalem the next day after clearing the money changers from the temple complex and severely rebuking the hypocrisy of Israel’s spiritual leaders.  Unsurprisingly, Israel's spiritual leaders wanted some answers and were eager to confront Jesus:

Mark 11:27-28 They came again to Jerusalem.  As He was walking in the temple complex, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came and asked Him, “By what authority are You doing these things?  Who gave You this authority to do these things?

Jesus then used a parable to convey God’s displeasure with their administration of the nation’s relationship with God the Father.  The religious leaders clearly got Jesus’ point…and begin to plan Jesus’ demise.

Mark 12:12 Because they knew He had said this parable against them, they were looking for a ways to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowd.  So they left Him and went away.

Other portions of the religious establishment were then sent to challenge Jesus:

Mark 12:13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Him to trap Him by what He said.

And again:

Mark 12:18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and questioned Him

After rebuffing all their questions with wise answers that both amazed and delighted the crowd gathered to watch the dialogue, Jesus stopped to give them all a warning.

Mark 12:38-40 He also said in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes, and who want greetings in the market-places, the front seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show.  These will receive harsher punishment.”

The scribes were members of the learned class, with responsibilities for studying the Hebrew Scriptures.  They also served as copyists, editors, teachers, and jurists.  They were held in high regard, and as such, they were also prone to holding themselves in high regard.

Jesus gave a specific list of actions that would help the crowd identify scribes to be wary of.  Their actions betrayed the heart’s true desire – to be given honor, rather than giving honor to God.

It’s the last identifier that I find rather interesting – the scribes would say long prayers just for show.  Their words were for those around them, in order that they would be noticed and highly regarded.  They would go on and on in great spiritual-sounding dialogue…and yet their target audience was only those physically around them.

We would be wise to consider the prayers of the spiritual leaders around us.  When you hear them pray, see if you can identify whom they are talking to…are they talking to God, or are they talking to you?  Are they praying for God’s will or just communicating information with their eyes closed?

Don’t forget to do a self-evaluation as well.  If my prayer habits and phrases are different when I pray by myself vs. when I pray around others, then it would be a good idea to speak to God privately about the matter.  Ask His forgiveness and for instruction on how to pray to Him when other people are around.

The last thing we want is to end up like the self-seeking scribes, because after all, their choices eventually led them to receive harsher punishment.  God has a long track record of severely correcting those who misrepresent Him in the manner which the scribes were doing.

Let’s beware leaders who act like that, and also make sure that we don’t act like that either.  As Jesus pointed out, a good litmus test to evaluate the purpose of our hearts is to listen to what is said in public prayers.

Keep Pressing,

Moving mountains

While on His way to the temple complex, where he would clear out the money changers and reprimand Israel’s spiritual leaders for their hypocrisy, Jesus came across a fig tree with leaves.  Fig trees of the area would produce early fruit, then leaves, and then fig season would come in full swing.  Since Jesus was hungry, He walked up to the leaved tree and expected to eat one of its early fruit.  However the tree was barren, it did not produce any early fruit…and trees that did not produce early fruit were also known to not produce during the proper season, either.  Due to the tree’s hypocrisy of being fully leafed, yet without fruit – Jesus cursed the tree:

Mark 11:14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples heard it.

After witnessing this scene, Jesus’ disciples watched Him strongly rebuke Israel’s leaders for their own hypocrisy.  The similarity of these two events was not lost on the disciples.  The next day, they went back to Jerusalem along the same path as they had the day before.

Mark 11:20-21 Early in the morning, as they were passing by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.  Then Peter remembered and said to Him, “Rabbi, look!  The fig tree that You cursed is withered.”

Imagine what the disciples were thinking – If Jesus curses a plant for its hypocrisy, and the next day it is dead from the roots up…what will happen to Israel because of His rebuke to the priests and scribes the day before???

The first thing Jesus will reply with is a reassurance of where their faith belongs, in God and not in the appearance of spirituality.  Jesus then speaks to them in hyperbole, in large unqualified examples used only to make a larger point.  This wasn’t the only time Jesus spoke like this in His teaching.  For example, He had previously warned his disciples:

Mark 9:43-45 And if your hand causes your downfall, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell…And if your foot causes your downfall, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell

Within the context of His teaching at that moment, the disciples understood the point Jesus was making – they didn’t seriously believe that Jesus was teaching them that there are eternal benefits to physical self-mutilation.  In fact, this kind of exaggerated talk was quite common in Jesus’ day…and although not to the same extent, we use similar ridiculous phrases to express ideas, like “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “he bit off more than he could chew”.  The point made by the saying isn’t found in the saying itself. 

So let’s keep that in mind while we look at Jesus’ response to the disciples’ fears:

Mark 11:22-24 Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God.  I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for – believe that you have received them, and you will have them.

Jesus isn’t giving His disciples a blank check to start rearranging the landscapes as they see fit.  There is no mention in the rest of the New Testament of the disciples praying and then physically moving a mountain.  Instead, they understood Jesus’ point – that as they placed their faith in God, they would see things accomplished that no man could do.  The disciples spent the rest of their lives participating in God’s fantastic story of redemption, and they witnessed the supernatural removal of many obstacles along the way.

So what figurative “mountains” do you face?  When praying about them, do we trust that God is bigger and greater than the obstacle in front of us?  Believing that He can handle it is the first step toward seeing that mountain moved.

Keep Pressing,

House of prayer (part 3)

A few days before His final Passover meal, Jesus cleared the temple in a symbolic gesture which represented the reform needed within the Jewish religious practices.

Mark 11:15-17 They came to Jerusalem, and He went into the temple complex and began to throw out those buying and selling in the temple.  He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves, and would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple complex.

Then He began to teach them: “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?  But you have made it a den of thieves!”

Growing up in Israel, children were educated and taught to read using the Old Testament Scriptures.  Constant repetition was considered an essential part of their learning process.  As such, all Israelites would memorize large portions of the Old Testament.  The priests and scribes of Jesus’ day would have the entire Old Testament, as well as the Jewish traditions, perfectly memorized.  So when Jesus quoted Isaiah with His question “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?”, everyone knew what He was quoting.

While Jesus quoted Isaiah with His question, His audience would have also recognized that He quoted Jeremiah in His emphatic statement “But you have made it a den of thieves!”.  The Isaiah passage was an encouraging invitation to foreigners, but the Jeremiah passage is one where God rebukes Israel for living for their own desires while showing up on the Sabbath and verbally praising God.  The Israelites at that time also believed that the physical presence of the temple was proof enough that God was satisfied with how the nation treated Him.  Jeremiah was warning the nation that if they did not change their hypocrisy, judgment would come:

Jeremiah 7:3-11 “This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: Correct your ways and your deeds, and I will allow you to live in this place.  Do not trust deceitful words, chanting: This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.

Instead, if you really change your ways and your actions, if you act justly toward one another, if you no longer oppress the alien, the fatherless, and the widow and no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow other gods, bringing harm on yourselves, I will allow you to live in this place, the land I gave to your ancestors forever and ever.  But look, you keep trusting in deceitful words that cannot help.

“Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known?  Then do you come and stand before Me in this house called by My name and insist: We are safe?  As a result, you are free to continue doing all these detestable acts!  Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your view?

For their hypocrisy, judgment and exile came on those in Jeremiah’s time.  By referring back to the Jeremiah passage, Jesus was indicating that the priests and scribes of Jesus’ day also acted this way.  Of course, they did not take kindly to Jesus’ teaching.  

Mark 11:18 Then the chief priests and the scribes heard it and started looking for a way to destroy Him.  For they were afraid of Him, because the whole crowd was astonished by His teaching.

As a result of their hypocrisy, the priests and scribes missed the fact that Jesus was the Messiah…and Jerusalem was soon after destroyed.  We would be foolish to think that we modern believers would never see judgment like they did.  Do we live hypocritical lives and then show up for an hour on Sunday to offer verbal praise to God?  Do we acknowledge Jesus with our lips, but walk out the door and deny Him by our lifestyle?

Will we persist in making God’s house a den of robbers, or will we take the necessary – even painful – steps to ensure that God’s house is as it should be, a house of prayer for all nations?

Keep Pressing,

House of prayer (part 1)

It was time for the Passover celebration, and Jews from all over the world were in Jerusalem.  For those coming from out of town, they would not have brought the appropriate sacrificial animal with them on their journey.  Additionally, they would not have had the local money used to pay the required half-shekel temple tax.  As such, these items needed to be purchased.

While space for the housing, inspecting, and purchasing of the animals was necessary – a prescribed sacrifice was a spotless lamb, or two pigeons if you were poor – it seems that Israel’s leaders had decided to accommodate the large crowds by moving the commerce area into the temple complex.

Unknown to everyone, this Passover week was different from any previous celebrations.  Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem had just occurred.  And one of the first things He does when He gets to town is visit the temple.

Mark 11:15-16 They came to Jerusalem, and He went into the temple complex and began to throw out those buying and selling in the temple.  He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves, and would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple complex.

Notice that Jesus was throwing out both the buyers and the sellers.  Jesus wasn’t condemning what they were doing – but it was their choice of location that betrayed their attitude toward God.

Jesus’ house-cleaning was symbolic of the restoration needed in their relationship with God.  Commerce and facilitating religious activities had taken the place of what was supposed to be the true aim of the temple location – the meeting with and worship of Almighty God.

After clearing some space, Jesus had everyone’s attention:

Mark 11:17 Then He began to teach them: “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?  But you have made it a den of thieves!” 

Jesus’ question cuts to the heart of the matter – Do you remember why you are here at the temple?

We could ask ourselves some similar questions:

·        What do our activities within our church buildings say about our attitude toward God?  Are we there to worship?  Are we there to pray? 
·        Do we come to church on Sunday expecting to meet with God and offer him praise…or do we go expecting to meet with friends and hope that we can get something useful out of the message?

These are tough questions, but ones that need answered.  Perhaps it’s time to do some house-cleaning within ourselves.

Keep Pressing,

Prayerful preparation

When the disciples were unable to cast out a demon (even though they had done so on previous occasions), Jesus was able to step in and heal the afflicted boy.  Later on, Jesus addressed the source of their ineffectiveness.

Mark 9:28-29 After He went into a house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  And He told them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

There was always something that bothered me about the whole scene, because prior to casting out the demon…Jesus didn’t pray.

An account of this situation is given by Matthew, Mark, and Luke; however, each retelling of the events say nothing about Jesus praying prior to rebuking the demon and ordering it to come out of the boy.  In the several stories recounted in the gospels, Jesus would give thanks to God or look to Heaven before performing a miracle…but in this instance, when He says that casting out the demon requires prayer – there is no record of a prayer being offered.

This situation has left me puzzled for a while.  After making as many observations as I could, interpreting the text as well as I could, and then even thinking about the apparent contradiction for some length of time…I was still stuck.  It’s at times like these (only after exhausting our own personal abilities), that it is acceptable to consult a commentary.

Several commentators didn’t address my question – you’ll find that some writers don’t want to talk about the difficult or potentially controversial passages.  However, the few commentators that I did find willing to discuss the passage made an interesting point, that perhaps I’m thinking to narrowly when it comes to Christ’s prescription of prayer in order for the disciples to cast out the demon.

Since Jesus didn’t pray before commanding the demon to leave the boy, prayer is evidently not a one-time evocation of God’s power and authority.  Jesus’ own prayer life modeled one of complete dependency on the Father.  This incident would have been a powerful lesson for the disciples, teaching them that they would need to constantly rely on God in order to achieve any mission He would give them.  This type of reliance would be both evidenced by and maintained by their prayer time with the Father.

The same rings true for us as well.  When we maintain our reliance on the Father is when we are able to achieve the mission He’s given us.  When we are challenged, there will be no need to invoke God’s authority by making a loud, thunderous prayer, rather we will already be prepared to act because we know the One we’re relying on.

Keep Pressing,

Prayer and victory

At one point during His ministry, Jesus had a mission for his disciples. 

Mark 6:7,12-13 He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs and gave them authority over unclean spirits…So they went out and preached that people should repent.  And they were driving out many demons, anointing many sick people with oil, and healing.

Sometime after they returned, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray.  While there, Jesus was transfigured and the three with Him saw him speaking with Moses and Elijah.  However, another scene was unfolding with the nine disciples who were left down below.

Mark 9:14-18 When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes disputing with them.  All of a sudden, when the whole crowd saw Him, they were amazed and ran to greet Him.  Then He asked them, “What are you arguing with them about?”

Out of the crowd, one man answered Him, “Teacher, I brought my son to You.  He has a spirit that makes him unable to speak.  Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid.  So I asked Your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”

Jesus then casts out the demon and heals the child.  However, consider what has to be going through the minds of the nine disciples…What did I do wrong?...Why is this time any different from before, when Jesus sent us out two by two?...Did I approach the demon correctly?...Did I say the right thing?  These guys were dumb-founded while the crowd around them rejoiced at the miracle healing that Jesus had performed. 

In the ancient world, magicians would seek to hit the right combination of sayings, motions, and use of instruments to cast out demons.  It was all considered a matter of technique – and that’s likely what the nine disciples were arguing with the scribes about before Jesus arrived.  Their inability to cast out the demon bothered them so much that they had to find out why it didn’t happen.

Mark 9:28-29 After He went into a house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  And He told them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

Jesus’ answer is both unexpected and instructive.  While the disciples were looking for something that they could do so they could cast out the demon, Jesus instead points them to how they can rely on the One who truly is casting out the demon.  Everything Jesus has demonstrated and taught them about prayer was God-focused, not self-focused.  The disciples were unable to have victory in this situation because they were looking to themselves for power, rather than looking to God.

I find this very instructive…there have been times when, by God’s grace and power, I’ve escaped from habitual sin or a sin-soaked situation.  However, when that same problem arises later, my first thought is something along the lines of “I’ve got this. I beat this before, I can do it again.”  Unfortunately, that’s when I am most prone to failure.  Previous results do not guarantee future victories.  That is because victory only happens when I am trusting in God’s strength and not my own.

Prayer is the way we stay connected to God.  God-focused praying ensures that we have the correct perspective on God as well as the situation at hand – so that when the battle is brought to us, we will act in His authority and power.  This isn’t just a one-time infusion either, instead each time we step out to do our God-given mission, we need to recognize that our authority and power flow from God.

Keep Pressing,

When hardship looms

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus had spent the previous day with his disciples.  Together, they celebrated Israel’s most important feast, Passover.  Together, they recalled how God had mightily rescued Israel from her Egyptian enemies.  During the meal, Jesus gave them instructions of how they were to perform communion going forward.

Throughout the entire evening, Jesus knew what the night would bring.  The Scriptures containing the prophecies about the Messiah’s death were going to be fulfilled.  Jesus knew that his death would be on a cross, one of the most horrific and painful methods of execution ever invented by man.  He dreaded what was about to happen, what He would have to endure.

The last thing Jesus did before He was betrayed was pray.

Mark 14:32-35 Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and He told His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and horrified.  Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow – to the point of death.  Remain here and stay awake.”  Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray…

The gospels of Matthew and Luke also describe Jesus’ praying in the Garden, and both explicitly state that He prayed separately from his disciples.

On the eve of the most difficult and painful day of His life, Christ desired comfort and strength from God the Father…and no one else.  Jesus knew that what He needed to fulfill His mission would not be found among the people closest to Him. 

Is that our typical course of action?

Usually, our first reaction to an impending hard situation is to call the prayer chain, ask our small group to pray for us, or get together with others for a prayer meeting.  All of these things are the body of Christ supporting one another…and that’s a good thing.  However, Christ’s example in the garden of Gethsemane raises questions about our motivations for calling on other believers to “pray for me”.  I wonder if we take the comfort we receive from knowing that others are performing the act of prayer as a substitute for the comfort that we should be seeking from God.

True comfort and strength are not found in praying, rather they are found in the One we are praying to. 

Even if 1,000 people are praying that I find strength and courage in God, and I do not choose to seek God for strength and courage, then I cannot expect God to make me stronger simply because others have asked him.  We must pursue God in prayer on an individual basis, others cannot fulfill that relationship for us.

Jesus knew this…and it was because he spent time alone in the garden seeking the Father that He was ready for the cross.

Keep Pressing,

Intentionally alone

Repetition is always an indication of importance.  Whether we’re practicing the fundamentals of a sport, committing information to memory, or giving instruction to others…if something is repeated, there is significance.  God works the same way when He communicates with us.  When we study the Scriptures, look for things that are repeated.  You’ll find out what God sees as most important.

When we look at Christ’s prayer habits – what he prayed, how he prayed, and what he taught others about prayer – a specific theme is constantly repeated.  This habit was noted multiple times by Matthew, Mark, and Luke; not that they were making a big deal out of it, but rather they spoke of Christ’s behavior as if it were perfectly normal, natural, and common for Him to pray this way.

Almost every time Jesus prays to the Father, he is alone.

Some examples:

Matthew 14:23 After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.  When evening came, He was there alone.

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place.  And He was praying there.

Luke 5:16 Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

Luke 6:12 During those days He went out to the mountain to pray and spend all night in prayer to God.

There are two major observations from these verses – where Jesus prayed and when Jesus prayed.

Notice how Jesus’ preferred places of prayer were remote.  Jesus looked for quiet, isolated places so that He would not be interrupted or distracted by the needs of others.  In these places, Jesus could pour out His heart and not worry about who else was listening or needing Him next.  His choice of location helped keep His prayer time focused entirely on the Father.

Whether it was very early before anyone else was awake or very late after everyone went to sleep, Jesus also sought uninterrupted chunks of time with the Father.  Jesus was willing to sacrifice a commodity that most of us hold in high regard – because He was finding His rest in His time with the Father.

Our own application from these passages is obvious.  If our prayer life is going to be properly focused on God, then we need to follow Christ’s example and carve out time away from others to purposefully spend in prayer.  Whether your best time is early in the morning, or late at night, or during your normal driving time (with the radio off)…the point is that we need to be intentional about getting alone time with God.

Keep Pressing,