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 Tag: imitating Christ

After the adoption

From the moment we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we are part of a new family.  We are legally adopted as God’s children.  An adoption doesn’t cost the child anything…but it always comes with a price for the parent who adopts the child.  The price God the Father paid was the suffering and death of God the Son.

Hebrews 2:14-18
Now since [we] children have flesh and blood in common, He also shared in the these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death – that is, the Devil – and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death…

Therefore He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested.

Ever notice how the younger children in the family always seem to pick up traits and actions of their older sibling?  It’s because they have someone on their level to observe and imitate.  It is the same for us.  Looking to Jesus for an example…and not observing from a distance, but rather just like it happens with siblings. 

But, there is more to being “in the family” than just getting in…

Hebrews 3:1-3
Therefore, holy brothers and companions in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession; He was faithful to the One who appointed Him…[therefore] Jesus is considered worthy of more glory…

The author is clearly speaking to those already in the family – and is telling us that we have a heavenly calling!  We have the opportunity, right now, to become more than siblings to Jesus…we can also be His companions

The Greek word for companions is metochos.  A metochos [plural, metochoi] was a partner, associate, or sharer in some venture.  A king would surround himself with trusted friends and advisors – his Metochoi.  Think of King David’s mighty men or those who were known as a “friend of Caesar”.  These were part of the king’s inner circle, based upon trust and shared experiences.  Not only did the Metochoi have special access to the king, but they were entrusted with important tasks and responsibilities.  Many people can live happily under a good king, but not everyone is part of the Metochoi.

We see the same situation in our own society.  Those who faithfully work hard for a presidential nominee are the most likely candidates for important cabinet positions.  We wouldn’t expect someone who has done nothing more than cast their vote to be appointed to a top position.  They did not toil with the nominee on the campaign trail, and they are not known well enough to be trusted with such an important responsibility. 

Jesus was clear that Christians who do “the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 12:50) were the ones closest to Him.  He even told His disciples, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14).  The Metochoi of King Jesus, then, will be those friends, partners, and companions who have endured the trials of life faithfully to the end – just like He did with His mission from God the Father.

While we might feel uncomfortable with the metochoi concept in relation to Jesus, or we feel unsure how to become part of Christ’s Metochoi…don’t worry, the author of Hebrews will expand upon this concept for us.  However, he gives the first step in 3:1 – we need to keep our attention focused, considering Jesus and who He is.

Keep Pressing,

The Teacher Test

Lots of people claim to teach and preach for God.  But how do you know if what they’re saying is actually from God?

One test could be to measure how much Scripture is quoted during a sermon.  The more the better, right?  That would make it easy…if they only quote one verse, we should be suspicious…but if they quote many verses, then their teaching must be “good”.  But that doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

Another test could be to gauge how we feel after listening to a sermon.  We know that the Word of God should inspire us, right?  So, if we leave feeling inspired and motivated, then the message and the messenger must be “good”.  But then doesn’t seem quite right, either.

When he wrote to encourage and direct Timothy in his mission to the Ephesian church, Paul repeatedly addressed the topic of false teachers.  Closing off the previous section’s teaching on the church’s support for widows, honoring elders, disciplining elders, and the slave-master relationship, Paul says:

1 Timothy 6:2-3
Teach and encourage these things.  If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing, but having a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words.

Did you catch Paul’s “Teacher Test”? 

If what that person teaches does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching the promotes godliness, then we should not be listening to them.  We need to keep this in mind:

Since the aim of a Christian’s life is to be like Christ, any teaching that doesn’t match up with what Jesus taught will not make us more like Him. 

That statement is so simple, we don’t even bother to think in those terms.  However, when we forget why we need a constant relationship with Jesus, we tend to let the Christian life make us comfortable.  God richly blesses us in many ways, but our selfishness still drifts us toward a life of ease. 

There are many consequences to focusing on getting to the “good life” instead of aiming for the “Christ-like life”.  Paul will deal with several of them as he closes out his letter.  The one he points out here is that false teachers will come sounding “good”, but they will end up pulling us away from our aim of being like Jesus.

Our Teacher Test isn’t to count the number of verses or rely on our constantly changing feelings.  Taking what is taught and comparing it to sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ will show us if our teacher is pointing us in the right direction.  Every time we’re presented with a new Bible teaching, we need to be asking “Does this teaching promote god-like-ness?”.

We must be alert in this.  Don’t go on auto-pilot just because someone claims to have a message from God.  Our relationship with Jesus depends on it.

Keep Pressing,

Practicing to be like Jesus

“When am I ever going to use this stuff?”

That phrase is the rally cry of every student who has had their fill of theory and talk.  I wondered it when I was a kid, and now my kids have asked it of me.

Earlier in his letter to Timothy, we observed that Paul made the connection between godliness and being like Jesus.  There were three Jesus-like-ness observations we noted:

·        Jesus knew the Scriptures – He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Often during His teaching, Jesus would reference the Scriptures by saying “It is written” or asking the question “Have you not read?
·        Jesus was totally focused on His part in God’s plan and kingdom – He was on mission and would not be deterred.  In John 6:38, He said “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
·        Jesus knew both the Scriptures and His mission well enough that He could impact the lives of others – He cared for others, met them where they were, and pointed them toward God the Father.

Just a handful of verses after Paul made the connection between godliness and being like Jesus, he encouraged Timothy with these words:

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Paul’s instructions for Timothy match the three attributes of Jesus-like-ness we noted earlier.  First, Paul told Timothy to know the Scriptures. Through his devotion to public reading, exhortation, and teaching, Timothy would be immersing himself in God’s Word. 

Next, Paul urged Timothy to focus on his part in God’s plan and kingdom.  While he was a unique combination of skills and experience, when you add in the gift given to him by God, Timothy was especially prepared for this work in Ephesus. 

Lastly, Paul encouraged Timothy to practice these things; be committed to them…persevere in these things and his end result would be like Jesus’ – Timothy would know both the Scriptures and his mission well enough to impact the lives of others, or, as Paul put it, Timothy would save both himself and his hearers.  Now Timothy could not add to Jesus’ finished work on the cross, so we know that Paul isn’t referring to an eternal salvation here.  But then what would Timothy be saving them all from?

A few verses back, right after equating godliness with being like Jesus, Paul warned:

1 Timothy 4:1
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons

As Timothy applies what he’s learned from Paul, as he endeavors to be like Jesus – then he, too, will have the opportunity to save both himself and his hearers from the pitfalls of false teachings.  What a great rescue mission!

What could we do if we also imitate Jesus by knowing the Scriptures and using our God-given gifts?  What kind of rescuing could we do?  Will we trust God and find out?

Keep Pressing,

The pressure of being young and in charge

New leaders often feel the pressure to “prove” they belong in their position.  New young leaders feel this pressure even more.  If left unchecked, this pressure will kindle a leader’s internal worries of public failure.  Their fear of failure normally manifests itself in a variety of bad ways – becoming bossy, refusing counsel, trusting only themselves, stubbornness, condescending actions, or even expectations of special treatment because “I’m the boss”.

A boss who behaves this way will undermine the aim and purpose of the organization they are supposed to lead.  Don’t think these fears and actions are isolated to just business leadership.  You’ll find them in any organization – volunteer groups, military, even your local church. 

When Paul left Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus, he knew that he was leaving the congregation in capable hands.  However, Paul also understood some of the challenges that Timothy would likely face. 

Throughout his letter, Paul warns about the kinds of disputes Timothy will face as he leads the church in Ephesus.  When disagreements came up, it was certainly possible that someone would try to use Timothy’s age as a reason to discredit his leadership.  At this time, Timothy is likely in his late 20s, or possibly his early 30s.

So Paul gives this instruction to his protégé:

1 Timothy 4:11-12
Command and teach these things.  No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

Whenever I get the chance to encourage other fathers, especially fathers of young boys, I use phrases like “more is caught than taught” and “you must be the man you want them to be”.  In the long run, parenting is easier if we model the lessons we insist our children learn.  The same goes for leaders in the church.

Additionally, as Timothy did his best to emulate Jesus, there was a specific scene in Jesus’ life that he could have found reassuring.  Recall that at age 12 – still considered a child by Jewish society standards – Jesus was conversing with the teachers of the law in the temple, astounding them with his understanding and answers (see Luke 2:41-50).

Timothy couldn’t stop someone from questioning his position due to his youthfulness.  However, he could proactively prevent many concerns by how he conducted himself in his position.  The limitations other perceive in us are always overcome by our actions.  As Timothy modeled Christ-like behavior, his example would give him the credibility that his youthful age would not.

Keep Pressing,

How to make an eternal investment in yourself

Once you’re in God’s family, you find there are a lot of words thrown around that everyone just seems to “know” what they mean.  At least it appears that way, as often as you hear Christians use words like faith, justification, hallelujah, and salvation.

One of those terms is godliness.  Other than being told as children that is was close to cleanliness, we make the general assumption that godliness means some sort of “god-like-ness”, where we imitate a certain aspect of God as we meet Him in the Bible.  Honest, though…that definition still feels a little vague, doesn’t it?

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul uses the word godliness eight times in 113 verses.  That’s a pace of about one for every 14 verses.  By his heavy usage and what he says about it, we can see that Paul considered godliness an important point for Timothy and those under his charge.  Here’s an example:

1 Timothy 4:7-9
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness, for,

the training of the body has a limited benefit,
but godliness is beneficial in every way,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.

So Paul considers godliness something we have to be trained in and something that is beneficial both now and in eternity future.  If that’s the case, then we need to fully understand what the word means!

But recognizing the importance of godliness doesn’t clarify the word’s meaning.  It can still feel a little vague.  A few verses back, Paul validates this feeling:

1 Timothy 3:16
And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great

Right after saying something like this, I would expect Paul to give a definition or explanation of the mystery of godliness…but instead, he jumps straight into a description of Jesus:

1 Timothy 3:16
He was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

What Paul is getting at here is that if we want to have a “god-like-ness” that is valuable in the present life and in the life to come, then we need to train to have a “Jesus-like-ness”.  Jesus is our best example of how we are made to imitate and live like God designed us to.

So, practically speaking, what are some attributes of Jesus that we can imitate?  I suggest these three:

·        Jesus knew the Scriptures – He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Often, during His teaching, Jesus would reference the Scriptures by saying “It is written” or asking the question “Have you not read?
·        Jesus was totally focused on His part in God’s plan and kingdom – He was on mission, would not be deterred.  In John 6:38, He said “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
·        Jesus knew both the Scriptures and His mission well enough that He could impact the lives of others – He cared for others, met them where they were, and pointed them toward God the Father.

Paul’s message to Timothy was that godliness is something infinitely valuable – and that Timothy could develop a “god-like-ness” by training to be like Jesus.

Will we follow Jesus’ example?  Pursuing a “Jesus-like-ness” will beneficial…for the present life and…for the life to come.  Will we trust God and choose to make the eternal investment in the here and now?

Keep Pressing,

An unexpected example

Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, we often find His disciples in an ego-driven discussion, debating which one of them was going to be “the greatest” in Jesus’ kingdom.  On His last night, Jesus gave them a powerful example of what a “great” leader does.

John 13:1, 4-5
Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart from this world to the Father.  Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end…So He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself.  Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him.

I’m certain you could have heard a pin drop.  The normal hustle and bustle of conversation and movement as 13 guys reclined at a low table to eat the Passover meal would have come to a standstill when Jesus picked up the basin and the towel.

Does your state’s Governor handle coat check duty at the annual Governor’s ball?  Does your company’s CEO shine your shoes at the annual budgeting meeting?  Of course not.  So why would the Messiah – at the remembrance meal that foretold His coming – wash the filthy, sweaty, gnarled feet of twelve grown men, all of whom were subordinate to Him?

John 13:12-17
When Jesus had washed their feet and put on His robe, He reclined again and said to them,

“Do you know what I have done for you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord.  This is well said, for I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.”

“I assure you: A slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

The disciples had spent the last three years trying to learn everything they could from Jesus, in order that they might one day be just like Him.  The one who ended up most like Jesus, would be “the greatest” disciple, with all the authority and privilege that would come with that distinction. 

However, Jesus’ actions didn’t negate His title, position, or authority.  Since the disciples had accepted Jesus as their Teacher and Lord, how could they refuse to humble themselves and serve in the menial tasks, like what He had just performed?

As a mentor, we too need to provide a tangible example to our protégé.  Real life examples leave a mark like nothing else can.  Verbal instruction is the foundation for learning and developing others, but they will never forget the example of the time you stepped down and washed their feet.

Keep Pressing,

Much ado about mentoring

Many years ago, I was given a rather simple – and yet deep – illustration for the kinds of relationships each of us needs within the body of Christ. 

Everyone needs a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.

This straightforward description has always stuck with me.  Whenever I share it with someone else, I usually don’t have to give it much explanation – they immediately understand the details of these relationships:

Paul – someone who leads me toward God, provides a more mature example
Barnabas – someone who comes along side me as an equal, to both encourage and challenge
Timothy – someone who I am pouring my life into and providing a Godly example for

These relationships, especially those between a “Paul” and a “Timothy”, are commonly referred to as either discipleship or mentoring relationships.  While the term mentor is not specifically stated in the Bible, the word disciple is – and it generally refers to someone who is a learner, a follower, and an imitator of their instructor.  Howard Hendricks best described these special kinds of relationships:

Discipleship, as we know it today, tends to narrow its focus to the spiritual dimension. Ideally, it should touch on every area of life – our personal life and lifestyle, our work, our relationships. But discipleship always looks at these areas by asking the question, how do they relate to Christ? How does following Christ affect my personal life, my work, my relationships, and so on?

Mentoring, at least when practiced by Christians, certainly ought to center everything on Christ. But mentoring is less about instruction than it is about initiation – about bringing young men into maturity. Whereas the word for disciple means learner, the word ‘protégé’ comes from a Latin word meaning “to protect.” The mentor aims to protect his young charge as he crosses the frontier into manhood.

For my own part, I do not make a hard and fast distinction between discipleship and mentoring. There is a great deal of overlap. But I like the concept of mentoring because it focuses on relationships.

The point is we need the mature and experienced to kneel down with those of us in the family who are immature and have limited experience.  I feel that is one of the greatest areas where our modern church family has faltered – especially among the men, but women need these kinds of relationships, too.  We all need someone to challenge, guide, and protect us as we mature.  However, it is also vital that we turn to those around us and become the mentor they so desperately need.

To understand how to do this, we’re going to take a look at various mentor relationship examples that God has provided for us throughout the pages of Scripture.  We’ll watch how the mentors interact with their protégés.  We’ll observe their successes and their failures.  Most of all, we’ll be looking for how God was able to work with both of them because of their relationship.

A good starting point is a statement the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Corinth.  Right in the middle of his instruction about the many ways they needed to mature, Paul makes this bold statement:

1 Corinthians 11:1
Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.

Whether you are the mentor or the protégé, for this special relationship to work we must both desire the same thing – we must desire to imitate Christ.

Keep Pressing,

Reflecting love

After all the dysfunction and relationship problems that Onesimus had previously caused Philemon, take a look at Paul’s appeal to Philemon to now accept Onesimus.  Does this sound familiar?

Philemon 17-22
So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self.  Yes, brother, may I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 

Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.  But meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you.

Can you see how Paul is standing in the gap for Onesimus with Philemon, just like Jesus stands in the gap between us and God the Father?

Paul is confident that Philemon will listen to his request and accept Onesimus because Paul is the one making the request.  In order for the reconciliation to happen, Paul is willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Paul is choosing to spend of himself – both in monetary resources and in relationship capital – to repair the relationship between two people he dearly loves.  Additionally, Paul was confident that Philemon would accept his offer and would do even more than simply tolerating Onesimus – it’s clear from his request that Paul fully believed Philemon would accept Onesimus back into his family.

Similarly, Jesus is confident that God the Father will accept those who trust Him for eternal life because Jesus is the one making the request.  In order for our reconciliation to happen, Jesus was willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Jesus chose to spend of himself – by leaving behind the glory of Heaven, willing to be separated from the Father, and then to die a horrible death – to repair the relationship between those he dearly loves.  Additionally, Jesus knew that the Father would accept His offering and that the Father would do even more than just tolerate those who believe in Jesus for eternal life.  Jesus knew that because of His sacrifice, the Father would bring us into His family.

Paul’s actions are small-scale reflection of what Jesus did for each of us.  Without Paul’s assistance, it is doubtful that Onesimus could have been reconciled with Philemon.  Without Jesus, there was no way for us to be reconciled with God the Father. 

Great things happen when we imitate Jesus.  Relationships can be restored and lives can be changed – because we are acting like the One who restored our relationship with God the Father.  Our Jesus-changed life will positively affect the lives of others around us and simultaneously point them toward God’s bigger story.  The world doesn’t just need to hear the message of Jesus – they need to see it, too.

Paul was able to stand in the gap for his friends because he knew Jesus well enough to imitate Him.  If we stay close to Jesus, we too can be small-scale reflections of His great love.

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,

Prayer, submission, and action

After Jesus finished His ‘High Priestly Prayer’, they came to the garden where Jesus was later betrayed by Judas.  Although Jesus took Peter, James, and John from among the eleven to go pray with Him, Jesus ended up separating even further away to pray alone.  When we previously looked at this passage, we observed that in His last moments before the cross, Jesus desired to spend time in prayer alone with the Father.  However, when reading the passage this time, focus on the content of Jesus’ prayer:

Matthew 26:36-44 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.  Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow – to the point of death.  Remain here and stay awake with Me.”  Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father!  If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.  Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping.  He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with Me one hour?  Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.”  And He came again and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open.

After leaving them, He went away again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.

Jesus’ prayer is the pinnacle example of submitting to God’s will in prayer.  We are only getting snippets of what He prayed to the Father; the full prayer must have been agonizing and heart-wrenching.  Jesus wrestled with accepting the task in front of Him.  He knew it would cost His life, with all the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual torment coming first.  It is one thing to know that a tragic event is coming, it is something different to knowingly be right on the cusp of that event. 

In raw honesty, Jesus even asked if there was an alternative…some backup plan that the Father may  have for completing the mission, another way to remove the guilt of sin from the entire world.  And yet, Jesus was willing to submit His anxious desires because He trusted that the Father’s plan – however painful it would be – was better than His own longing to avoid the imminent pain of the cross.

Matthew 26:45-46 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?  Look, the time is near.  The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Get up; let’s go!  See – My betrayer is near.”

After seeking time with the Father and submitting Himself to the Father’s plan, Jesus knew that it was now time to act.  The time for prayer and preparation had passed.  It was now time to fulfill the mission the Father had given Him.

This observation is especially instructive.  We absolutely must seek God’s will in prayer and then submit to God’s will in prayer…but let’s make sure we go out and do God’s will when we’re finished praying.

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,

Emotions and prayer (part 1)

Eyes closed. 
Head bowed. 
Hands folded or pressed together. 
Clean, calm, impassionate words.

Whether someone directly teaches us to do this, or if we instead pick it up from watching others pray…we have a tendency to sanitize our words and feelings when we pray to God.

From the gospels, we know that Jesus prayed often to the Father, however his prayer time is almost always shown to be him going away from everyone else to pray to the Father.  As such, very few of Jesus’ words directed toward God the Father were recorded for us in the Scriptures…but have you ever wondered how his prayers went?  What would it have been like to hear Jesus make requests from God the Father?  Did he pray silently?  Was he passionate? 

The author of Hebrews gives us an interesting glimpse into Jesus’ prayer time:

Hebrews 5:7 During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals, with loud cries and tears, to the One who was able to save Him from death…

From this verse, we see that Jesus talked to God the Father in different ways, offering up both prayers and appeals.  However, what stands out in this verse is what accompanied Jesus’ prayers and appeals, that he spoke to God with loud cries and tears.  When Jesus spoke with God the Father, his words were full with emotion, they were not limited to quiet whispers.  The times when Jesus was moved to tears – like when Lazarus died (John 11:35), or undoubtedly when his cousin John the Baptist was beheaded and he withdrew to be alone (Matthew 14:13) – in those types of moments, he wasn’t afraid or ashamed to dialogue with God. 

From this we see that God the Father can handle our feelings…even the ones that spill over, are messy, or get loud.  We shouldn’t feel the need to “drum up” these emotions in order to effectively pray, but Jesus’ example does show us that there is no need to suppress how we’re feeling before we talk with God.  Knowing that is very comforting!

We bring our prayers and appeals to God because we believe that he has the ability to understand us, and that, if he chooses, he has the authority to act on our requests.  If God has the proper strength and authority to rescue a person from death – and he does – then he certainly can handle whatever mental and emotional state we find ourselves in.

So let’s not be afraid to reach out to God the Father and honestly express our emotions.

Keep Pressing,

Much ado about prayer

I remember when I was in grade school, I was told by my Sunday School teacher that I shouldn’t end my prayer the way I was saying it.  She gently told me that what I was saying wasn’t exactly theologically accurate…now while I don’t remember verbatim what my first grade mind came up with, I do remember thinking that I didn’t want to say what everyone else said at the end of a prayer.  I wanted to say something different, my own way of signing off or saying “see you later” to God.  She said that it would just be better for me to say “In Jesus’ name, Amen”.

Truthfully, she may have been correct that what I was saying was inaccurate…but to this day, I’ve often wondered what’s the “right way” for us to pray?  Later in my childhood, I was told by another adult that prayer was simply “talking to God”, but that statement still leaves me feeling unsettled. 

When my boys were young, they specifically asked me “Dad, what’s the right way to pray?  How do I do it?”  Not wanting to burden their young minds with the doubt and questions I had as a child, I reiterated what was told to me…Don’t worry about it, son.  You’re just talking to God, that’s all.  No formulas, no requirements.  Just tell God what’s on your mind…your worries, your hopes, anything that’s going on.  God can handle it.

However, as I’ve grown and matured…both in life and in my relationship with God…I still have the same lingering questions rattling around the back of my mind.  Is there a “right way” to pray?  Is it really “just talking to God”?  Am I doing this right?

It’s a good exercise to face the questions within us.  It’s also good to talk with other Christians about these things.  But when we have questions about our relationship with God, it’s even better to see what God has to say about it.

A survey of the Scriptures shows that prayer is everywhere.  Seems almost every person we encounter, from all walks of life, prays at some point.  From Job to Paul, David to Peter, Moses to Jabez, and Jonah to John it seems that everyone is either praying or talking about praying.  There are scores of example prayers to look at, and we could spend some time looking at the situations each of those prayers came from.  There would be plenty of benefit to looking through other believers’ examples in the Bible; however, I’m going to narrow the focus a little more in the hopes of answering my own lingering questions.

C.S. Lewis said that God’s aim is that “Every Christian is to become a little Christ”, and the Apostle John had this to say when he wrote about the health of our relationship with Christ:

1 John 2:6 the one who says he remains in [relationship with] Him should walk just as He walked

If these accurately describe God’s purpose toward those who have accepted Christ as Savior, then when it comes to prayer…I want to know how Jesus prayed.  Not only “how”, but also “when” and “why”.  If becoming like Christ is the goal, then he should be the first one we look to as our example.  Jesus’ own disciples also recognized this:

Luke 11:1 [Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”

The disciples wanted to be like their teacher, so they naturally wanted to pray like him too.  We’re going to take a close look at what Jesus taught his disciples, as well as Jesus’ own prayer life – when did he pray and what did he pray?

As of this writing, I don’t know the answers to all of these questions…so we’re going to walk down this path and learn together.  Perhaps our best starting point is to have the same request the first disciples had

Lord, teach us to pray.

Keep Pressing,