Pressing On

with THE WORD

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

Filtering by Tag: prayer

An engagement ring, the Holy Spirit, and witnessing

It felt like any other workday as everyone came in, but before I could even start with the normal Monday morning pleasantries – How was your weekend?  What did you do? – a coworker actually jumped into my path and started waving her left hand in my face.  The diamond on her ring was close enough to poke me in the nose, and as I pulled back, I could see the large smile on her face.  She was practically giddy that the man she had spent so much time getting to know had asked her to marry him.  All day long, she bounced from person to person, telling anyone she knew about their relationship and future together.

My co-worker had gotten to know this man and was already in love with him.  Most people at work knew she was dating, but didn’t really know how serious they were or if they had any future plans together.  However, when the proposal moment came and he placed the ring on her finger, everything snapped into focus.  Because of the ring and her bubbly excitement, everyone at work soon found out that she had experienced a life-changing moment and that she was in a life-changing relationship.

The memory of that Monday has stuck with me for many years.  It was so easy for her to tell others about her relationship, how special it was for her, and how her talking about it felt like a celebration of their relationship.  I’ve often compared this to how most Christians share their faith with others, and obviously there are significant differences.  I think every Christian would love to have the confidence, boldness, and excitement that my coworker had, and we often scold ourselves for not having the courage to share.  So, what do we do?  Typically, we go one of two ways: either we grit our teeth and fumble around in the awkwardness of forcing “Jesus” into a conversation, or we resign ourselves to shame for being too scared to bring it up.

However, we’re not alone in this.  The Biblical parallel that comes to mind is what Jesus told His 11 disciples just before He ascended into heaven:

Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you,
and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem,
in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the end of the earth.

When reading Scripture, one way to sharpen our Observation skills is to look for the particular order things are presented.  Us modern-day believers tend to key in on the phrase “you will be My witnesses…to the end of the earth”, and while that is where we are on this list, we need to be aware that Jesus said there was a part that comes before becoming His witnesses.

Jesus told His disciples that first the Holy Spirit has to come into their lives and that He would be the power for them to be His witnesses – and if you continue to read in Acts, you find out that is the case.  The disciples knew Jesus well because they had just spent the last 3 years with Him, watching everything He did and being personally taught by Him.  Yes, they did do some preaching and teaching under Jesus’ leadership, but that all stopped when Jesus was taken from them.  Scripture does not show them telling others about Jesus until after the Holy Spirit came.  The disciples had all the information and relationship basis to tell others, but they were lacking the boldness and power to talk about Him.  The arrival of the Holy Spirit in their lives gave them the confidence they needed to share what they already knew.

For us, we are given the Holy Spirit the moment we believe in Jesus for eternal life (Ephesians 1:13).  The point is the same, however.  The Holy Spirit is the one who enables us to witness…it’s not something that can be drummed up or done by our own strength.  And yet, we shame ourselves for not being able to do the Holy Spirit’s job!  The disciples could not effectively witness without Him, and neither can we.

Our efforts should not be in finding and perfecting a “witnessing moment” because that’s not our jurisdiction, not our focus.  Our witness is an outpouring of our relationship with Jesus.  We can only share what we know.  As such, our efforts are better used in purposely spending time with Jesus – getting to know Him by talking with Him in prayer and watching what He did in the Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Knowing God without seeing Him

My time working for a company once coincided with the last years of the company’s founder being involved in the operation.  He and a friend had started the business over 40 years previous to my arrival. 

I never saw him while at work, our paths never crossed.  I was second shift in the QC lab, and he was managing the Executive Board.  However, within my first few years on the job, while at a dedication event for Chestnut Mountain Ranch, I saw him from a distance.  I was afraid to walk up and awkwardly introduce myself, and I rationalized my fear by thinking that my position was too low to justify me striking up a conversation out of the blue.

Although I never had another chance to speak with him, I did get to know him.  The longer I worked at the company, the more I found that nearly everyone knew Mike.  In previous years, he had purposefully worked closely with many of his employees.  Those who worked with him had adopted his ethos for excellent work and treating your workers with excellence.  I came to know the standards and expectations of the company because the founder had instilled his methods and expectations on those who would pass down those patterns of behavior to me.

On a much larger scale, something similar has happened in God’s family.  In the books referred to as “The Gospels”, we have four separate, but highly complementary, records of Jesus’ life.  John, the youngest of all Jesus’ disciples, would record Jesus telling the disciples at the Passover meal:

John 13:34-35
I give you a new command: Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.

How will others know that we are followers of Jesus?  It’s not because of the money we make, the car we drive, or the education we have.  We are identified as disciples based upon how we love other believers.

Did you know that Jesus even prayed for us modern-day believers?  That’s right, Jesus specifically mentions us – you and me – during His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before He was crucified.  John also recorded this:

John 17:20-21
I pray not only for [the disciples], but also for those who believe in Me through their word.  May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.  May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe you sent Me.

Jesus’ words obviously stuck with John.  Many years after Jesus had ascended into Heaven, here’s what John passed on about Jesus in a letter he wrote to other believers…ones who had never met Jesus:

1 John 4:9-12
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His one and only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.  No one has ever seen God.  If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is made complete in us.

Notice a theme?  John carried on Jesus’ instruction, that God cares how we love one another, because our love is a reflection of His.  How well we love each other demonstrates how closely we are walking with Him…and as that kind of love is different from what the world offers as love, everyone will know that we are His disciples.

As the global church of believers – those who trust in Jesus for eternal life – we have many ways to get to know our Savior.  Start with what John tells us – choose to love your fellow believers.  Listen to others talk about their relationship with Him.  When we read Scripture, we find out who He is and what He is like.  We can pray and talk directly to Him.

Short of the rapture happening in our lifetime, we won’t meet Jesus face-to-face until we’re on the other side.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t know Him now.  We haven’t missed our chance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Meeting God in prayer

Luke 10:41-42
The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice [to spend time with Jesus], and it will not be taken away from her.”

The right choice.  The better meal.  We’ve been looking at how Jesus’ response to Martha gives us direction on how we are encouraged and fueled to live out the life Jesus has given us.  Last time, we saw how God wants to meet us through our time in the Scriptures.  This time, we’re looking at the other way that God meets us – through prayer.

To pray for things we want – material items or particular circumstances – that comes rather easy.  We know all the things we want or wish for because we spend a lot of time thinking about them.

When James was writing to believers, he warns them about their “wants” and the motives behind them:

James 4:1-5
What is the source of wars and fights among you?  Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?  You desire and do not have.  You murder and covet and cannot obtain.  You fight and wage war.  You do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

You adulterous people!  Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?  So whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God.  Or do you think it’s without reason that the Scripture says: The spirit He made to dwell in us envies intensely?

God is jealous for our attention.  Think about it: He has saved us from being eternally separated from Him and He gives us never-ending, eternal life…so of course He is offended when our main interaction with Him is treating Him like a cosmic vending machine so we can get stuff to impress others with how great we are.

Fortunately for his readers (and us), immediately after James gives that harsh, well-deserved rebuke, he then gives hope and a proverb to remedy their mindset:

James 4:6-7, 10
But He gives greater grace.  Therefore He says:

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Therefore, submit to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Not only does God have grace for us to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but there is also grace for when we selfishly return to a sinful mindset!  We have access to this grace when we humble ourselves before the Lord.  And how do we do that?  Through prayer that is God-focused, not us-focused!

I’m sure your next question will be “How do I pray to God, about God?  Isn’t that a little weird?

What I can tell you is that God-focused prayers is exactly how Jesus spent His time with God the Father.  If we don’t feel like we know “how to” pray well enough, then I refer you to the blog series I wrote on learning how to pray as Jesus prayed.  Those posts started on November 5th, 2014 and ended on April 8th, 2015. 

But there is a simpler, more direct way to learn to pray like Jesus did.  All we need to do is ask, like one of the disciples did:

Luke 11:1
He was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray”

In the verses that follow, Jesus gave His disciples a pattern, an example of how He prayed to God the Father.  It’s worth our time to check it out and practice using that format in our prayers – all with aim of making the right choice and building our relationship with God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The best "Next Step"

Have you ever learned something – some perspective-changing information – and then have it stuck in your thinking?  It’s like the concept has taken up residence your brain, and the implications of your new understanding suddenly bleed over into other areas of your life?

Well, that’s been me recently…with this whole “better meal” concept that Jesus pointed out.  In the previous post, we looked at the dynamic between Martha and Mary, when Jesus arrived at their house for a visit.  Martha got busy serving, but Mary chose to spend her time receiving what she could from Jesus’ conversation and teaching.  Here’s how that day played out:

Luke 10:38-42
While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  So tell her to give me a hand.”

The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What has stuck in my mind is how Jesus acknowledged that Martha was worried about the meal preparations, but He gently told her that Mary had chosen the “better meal”. 

So…if spending time with Jesus is the best choice – the right choice – for us believers, then we need to ask ourselves: How am I doing with that?  When was the last time I sat and listened for what He has to say?

That’s a great place to start; however, my line of thinking didn’t stop with just me and my relationship with Jesus.  My mind then made the short leap to thinking about how well the entire body of Christ is partaking in the “better meal”.  And if we, as Christians, need help to understand what this “better meal” looks like in our lives – then what is the church doing to promote this?

Since we are all at different stages in our relationship with God, churches often talk about and encourage believers to take the right “Next Step” from wherever they are.  And rightfully, they should.  But what are the most common “Next Steps” made available?

After checking out a number of church’s websites, it really is a mixed bag in terms of what steps are presented (if any) as being part of a believer’s walk with Christ.  The most common suggestions are volunteering to serve within the church or plugging into a small group or community group.  The group activities typically range from social hangout events to community volunteer work, and people are generally encouraged to “do life together”. 

While these options do good, helpful actions…they generally fall under the ‘Martha’ category and not the ‘Mary’ category.  They aren’t what Jesus referred to as the “better meal”.  We can learn a lot, grow a lot, and do a lot of good with our actions…but eventually, we’ll grow weary and burn out, wondering if this “Christian-life thing” is really worth all the effort.

The truth of the matter is we can’t confidently do what Jesus wants us to do until we know what Jesus wants us to know.  We must make the same choice that Mary made – we must choose the better meal – to sit at the feet of the master and focus on Him.

During last weekend’s sermon, our lead pastor asked the question “Do you know why most people fall asleep in church? It’s not just the boring guys that stand up here.  It’s because this is the most still and quiet you sit for this period of time all week long.”

If we’re honest, we know that listening to someone else talk about Jesus for 30 minutes isn’t enough to maintain us, let alone for us to live fully alive.  We need better fuel than what comes second-hand and once-a-week.  We need to go directly to the source.  We need Jesus.

But in our crazy world how does that work?  How do we find time to sit at His feet?  Better yet, how do we sit at His feet, if we can’t see His feet?  The two best ways for us modern believers to sit at Jesus’ feet is to engage in prayer and look at Jesus’ life in the Bible. 

Maybe we avoid these things because we don’t believe we have the time.  If this is you, then I encourage you to ask God to show you were you can carve out 15 minutes of your day.  It’s a simple, straight-forward request, “God, I want to prioritize time with You, but I don’t know when I can.  You know my schedule, please show me a time to meet with You.”  Trust me, God will show you a time, and you’ll be amazed at what He can do in your life with just 15 minutes.

Maybe we avoid these things because we’re not confident in our ability to do them.  No one is expected to be a Prayer Warrior or a Bible Scholar the moment they believe.  We can take comfort in knowing there are many examples in the Bible of people asking to be taught how to pray or how to handle the Scriptures.  In my upcoming posts, we’ll look at a few of the examples.  The important thing right now is that we start – talk to God and read some of Luke or John.  Look at one story from Jesus’ life and see what you can learn about Him.  If you still feel like you need help, ask God to point out someone who can assist you.

Mary had to pass on some good things in order for her to do the best thing.  We may need to make some similar choices to fit the time into our daily schedule.  But remember…Jesus called spending time with Him “the right choice”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Misplaced thankfulness

Today is a day set aside for giving thanks.  It is a wonderful tradition we Americans have carried on for decades (even as Black Friday shopping deals encroach on the day).  Despite all the turmoil going on in the world, we have much to be thankful for.

But I feel the need to issue a warning:

The contents of our thankful sayings will reveal what we hold most dear.  More specifically, which person(s) we hold most dear.  So when grace is said before dinner tonight, or as everyone goes around the table to say what they’re thankful for…listen not just for their words, but listen for their heart.  Above all, we should listen to our own words and consider our motives.

The shift is subtle, but it is so easy for our prayers and thankfulness to become self-centered.  One of Jesus’ parables dealt directly with this:

Luke 18:9
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:


Now before we ignore this parable because we think that we don’t fit Jesus’ target audience…let’s think back over our prayers for the last week.  Maybe you’ve prayed only once, or once a day, or even multiple times a day, but what has been the content of those prayers?

How do our prayers compare to these two individuals?

Luke 18:10-14
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself:

‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people – greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying,

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Can you hear the bragging tone of the self-centered Pharisee?  He’s so thankful that he doesn’t do the wrong things and that he always does all the right things.  Certainly, God should be impressed by his actions.  In the Pharisee’s mind, he has earned his place with God by doing everything better than everyone else.

The tax collector doesn’t bother to look at what he has or has not done.  Instead, his focus is entirely on God.  He recognized that God was the foundation of their relationship.  Without God’s participation and mercy, there was no chance for this tax collector – regardless of what good things he does or has.

So let’s avoid being thankful for “things” and “stuff” simply because “things” and “stuff” are enjoyable.  Let’s not be thankful in comparison to other’s situations and life choices.  It’s ok to enjoy blessings and good moments in life; however, the amount of blessings we have is not proof of how close we are with God.

But some evidence of our relationship with God will be heard in our prayers and words of thanks.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - Sharing our prayers

One last Flashback Favorite before we jump into the next series. This earlier learning provides a great prequel to where we’ll be going.

Sharing our prayers
originally posted on July 15, 2015

People have said it to me more times than I can remember, but I’m unsure how many of them really followed through.  I’ve even promised to do it for someone else, and yet I failed to live up to my own words.

It’s just five words, and they are quite common to hear in Christian communities:

I’ll be praying for you.

I’m not sure that I can trust others who tell me that…but that’s probably because I don’t really trust myself when I say it.  IF it happens that I remember to do the praying I’ve promised to do, it’s usually a breath or two about God “helping” them with their “stuff”.  If I feel unsure how to pray for someone, then my lack of trust for other’s prayer-promises probably comes from not knowing what, specifically, they are praying to God about my life.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us to our own meandering minds.  God’s Word is full of prayer examples, especially in Paul’s letters.  At the beginning of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives us a great example:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord

The first thing that stands out is that Paul’s not spending time praying about their circumstances.  Instead, he’s talking to God about the Colossians’ relationship with God in the midst of their circumstances.  Paul doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of their situation…rather his emphasis is that they would know God and His purposes. 

When we are walking closely with God, we are filled with the knowledge of His will and we more clearly see His desires and purposes.  We trust better.  We relax and watch for God.  We see life with a wisdom and spiritual understanding that is most definitely God-given.  These are the things Paul continually prayed for the believers in Colossae.  Not for “God’s help” in their lives, but that they would know Him and know Him well

The second thing that stands out is that Paul told them what he was praying for them.  How encouraging would it be for someone to tell you that they were praying these things for you?  To have a person specifically tell me that they were asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that information would be perspective-changing.  It would lift my eyes away from my “stuff” and circumstances; instead I would begin to look to God for His wisdom and spiritual understanding.

This is how we support one another in prayer.  Let’s petition God about relationships, not circumstances.  But let’s also encourage one another by sharing with others what we’re praying on their behalf.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Flashback Favorite - In need of peace

I’m still clinging to lessons already learned. New posts are coming, I promise. But given our current world-happenings, I think this post needs to be revisited.

In need of peace
originally posted on July 13, 2016

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of peace in the world right now.

So many problems that are not easily resolved, and the feelings heaped on top of the issues make them that much harder to sort out.  Hurt.  Injustice.  Anger.  Hatred.  Hopelessness.

There are also many competing ideas on how to solve these issues and the feelings attached to them.  We hear a steady stream of suggestions: some advocate that the government should pass additional laws, some want retribution and violence, some want more of God, others are calling for less of God, and others still are looking to smaller ‘gods’ to escape – like money, stuff, isolation, the appearance of safety, anything to find what we are all deep down really looking for:

Peace.

I hear people say we should ‘Pray for Peace’ and send our ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those who need it now.  I also hear those who complain that ‘thoughts and prayers’ haven’t fixed anything, given that the tragedies keep coming.

So how’s a Christian supposed to handle all of this?  Once again, Paul’s direction to Timothy for the believers in Ephesus is helpful.  Notice that Paul recognizes our desire for peace in this life, but also look for what he says accompanies it:

1 Timothy 2:1-2
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

The goal of our prayers for all those who are in authority is so their leadership will follow God and His design for human government.  The end result of that kind of leadership will heavily influence our ability to lead a tranquil and quiet life.  However, while the Ephesian believers are to pray for these things, Paul also expects them to live life in godliness and dignity.

Godliness can best be thought of as “God-like-ness” where we mirror the characteristics of God that He has shown us.  Things like mercy, grace, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness – when we understand what those words mean and how God shows them to us, then we can mimic those traits in our own life.  Being godly is displaying God-like traits to those who are completely undeserving of that kind of treatment, just like God has done for us.

When we imitate God this way, it doesn’t guarantee that everything goes perfect for us – or that we should pretend that everything is going perfectly, either.  When life goes sideways (and it will), how well we are connected to God is on full display.  Being godly and acting with dignity is sure to stand out in the turmoil going on around us.  We need to actively pursue God-like-ness while we pray for those same characteristics to show up in our leaders.

So don’t give up.  Take Paul’s advice to Timothy and make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings…for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority.  Not because the act of praying changes anything.  Do it because you know the power of the One you are praying to. 

And then let’s get out there and reenact the qualities that God has shown us – mercy, grace, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness – for people that don’t deserve it…because, like them, we didn’t deserve it, either.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Flashback Favorite - What am I saying?

While I take time away, I decided to not leave you entirely.  I've decided to repost something I've learned, written about, and keep coming back to.  A Flashback Favorite, if you will.  This is one of the lessons that have stuck with me.

What am I saying?
originally posted on November 21, 2014

Matthew 6:7-8
When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.  Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.

The Greeks and Romans of Jesus’ day believed that in order to get their god to pay attention to them, they must repeat their requests many times over.  They assumed that the more their prayer was repeated, the better the chance that the god would hear them accurately and being repetitive would also give them a better chance at getting exactly what they wanted.  A modern example of this babbling practice happens when someone advocates saying multiple “Our Fathers” or multiple Novenas to ensure that God gives us the answer we want.

While the pagans (and a few of us modern folks) may think we can arm-twist God based upon long, eloquent, repetitive, formal prayers…it seems that most of the prayers coming from the average Christian tend to babble, but in a slightly different manner. Have you ever noticed that when some people pray, almost every other word is “God” or “Lord God”?

“God, well, Lord God…we thank you God for the things that you, Lord God, have given us.  And, God, we ask you, God, to help our friend, dear God, who’s really sick right now, Lord God”

In cases like these, God’s name has become a filler-word in their prayer, similar to the word “um” when we don’t know what to say next.  When we find ourselves stumbling around in our prayers like this, it’s usually an indication that we’re more worried about what the others around us think of our praying skills than we are thinking about actually talking with God.  If you remove every time God is named…the prayer is small, yes…but it is down to the essential issues of our hearts – and that’s where God wants to engage us in our prayers.

However, if verse 8 is correct, and your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him…why should we bother to pray?  I mean, what’s the point of telling him something he’s already well aware of?

Since God approaches us using a Father-to-child model for our relationship with him, it can be instructive for us to think about our relationship with our own children.  Since I am more experienced in life, as well as more mature and observant, than either of my boys…I know what they need before they even ask.  In fact, most of the time, I am keenly aware of their needs before they even recognize them as actual needs.

While I could just fulfill every need as it comes up, doing so would actually hinder their growth toward adulthood.  The recognition of the need, the struggle to handle the need, and the decision to ask for help with the need are all steps toward maturity.  And all the while, I am ready, willing, and able to help…but my primary aim is not to fulfill all their needs, rather my goal is to shepherd them into maturity.  There have also been multiple occasions where what my son thinks he needs is not necessarily what he truly needs in that moment.

When my boys approach me, I’m not looking for long-winded arguments to convince me, they’re not going to get anywhere repeating “Dad, Dad, Dad” multiple times during our discussion, and yes, I know what they truly need in that moment.  Ultimately though, I love partnering with them as they grow up.

Based upon what Jesus has taught us about prayer, I’m certain that our Father in heaven feels the same way.  We don’t have to dress up our words, and we can trust he knows what’s best for us.  What he’s most interested in is relationship with us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

When life takes a detour

There was a plan.  But we’re taking a detour.

The plan was to study Biblical examples of mentors, go through 1 Timothy, and then go through 2 Timothy.  But we’re going to delay the start of 2 Timothy.  Sometimes, life goes that way.

There’s stuff going on in our family right now.  Please don’t worry, nothing’s “wrong”.  Health is good, marriage is fine, the boys are, well, teenage boys.  Other stuff is going on, and a lot is still up in the air.

I’m the type of person who likes to have the next 5 steps planned out, but right now…we’re kinda sure what the next 1 will be.  Life has taken a detour.

It’s been a habit of mine to drift back to the Psalms when detours happen.  God has recently been nudging me to do this through both family and friends, as well.  What I love about the Psalms is that they are so real and raw with emotion.  David, especially, bleeds out his feelings before the Lord – the good, the bad, and the “I don’t knows”.

There is a lot of comfort in connecting with the poetry of the psalms.  Sometimes, they give words to how we feel.  Sometimes, they help us lift our eyes above our current circumstances.  Sometimes, it’s reassuring to stand before God feeling what we feel and knowing that we’re not the only ones who deal with detours.

Over the last few days, I’ve been dwelling on parts of Psalm 6.  I’m sure my situation isn’t as dire as the David’s was…but his words certainly resonate.  So please read and think about the words…maybe they resonate with you, too.  If they don’t right now, it’s ok.  I would just encourage you to read the psalms until you find one that does…and then dwell on it before the Lord.

Psalm 6:1-4, 6-7, 9

Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger;
do not discipline me in Your wrath.
Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am weak.
heal me, Lord, for my bones are shaking;
my whole being is shaken with terror.
And You, Lord – how long?

Turn, Lord! Rescue me;
save me because of Your faithful love…
I am weary from my groaning;
with my tears I dampen my pillow
and drench my bed every night.
My eyes are swollen from grief…

The Lord has heard my pleas for help;
the Lord accepts my prayer.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

It's all good

It’s all good!

I might be giving away my age here, but that phrase became pop culture slang in the middle of my teenage years.  Typically said with twang that made the “all” sound like “awl”, the person who used the phrase was telling everyone that they were not going let a situation bring them down or derail their direction in life – even if the circumstances or news was really bad.

As cool as we thought we were for saying it, we didn’t realize that the Apostle Paul said it almost 2000 years before we did.

While instructing Timothy on how he needs to lead the church in Ephesus, Paul informs him of the following:

1 Timothy 4:4-6
For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.  If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

Did you catch that?  Everything God created is good.  Going back to original creation and the Garden of Eden, at the end each day, God looked at what He created and saw that it was good (See Genesis 1).  Despite the ways sin has corrupted the world, we can still approach everything through the lens of the word of God and by prayer.  When we use these two tools, we can see God’s original design and intent for our lives. 

Paul wants the believers in Ephesus to know this, but he also knows that they must be reminded of it.  Why does Paul tell Timothy to point these things out to the brothers?  Because he knows that the troubles of this sin-soaked world will skew our vision.  We must keep coming back to God’s word and prayer if we’re going see properly.

Can I be honest, though?  Sometimes I tire of hearing that message, even though I know it is right.  It happens to all of us.  Our sin-nature gets emboldened, and we resent the messenger who reminds us of our need for God’s word and prayer.  Being resented can be difficult for our church leaders, even though they are correctly doing the things God has asked them to do.  Paul knows this and encourages Timothy:

if you point out these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus

Paul uses the same word for good here that he did earlier.  So he’s essentially saying that as good as God made the initial creation and design, that’s how good of a servant Timothy will be when he carries out his mission and points the believers back to the importance of God’s word and prayer.

So we should ask ourselves:

Do I see today as something good?
Do I see my home, my family, my work, my food, and my responsibilities as something good?
Am I thankfully receiving everything from God, seeing it all through the lens of His word and prayer?
Am I resentful when someone reminds me see life through this lens?

Despite what sin-soaked mess comes our way, when we see this world from God’s vantage point, we can honestly say

It’s all good.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Getting specific

Sometimes when I am presented with an important teaching, I need a little help to flesh out exactly how this new concept applies to where I’m at.  As such, I love it when a speaker moves from the theoretical to the practical. 

Paul has just given Timothy instruction on the importance of the believers in Ephesus to lead a tranquil and quiet life, a life that is characterized by both godliness and dignity.  This kind of life will stand out to those outside God’s family and will serve a launching pad for telling others about Jesus.  (see 1 Timothy 2:1-7).

Thankfully, Paul moves quickly to give Timothy instruction for how the believers in Ephesus can display these characteristics.

1 Timothy 2:8
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.

The first task for the men is to lead in prayer.  The importance of this task in each family and within God’s family cannot be understated.  Since the men are to act as the leader and High Priest for their family, as well as provide leadership within the church, their individual connection to God must be a top priority.

Paul’s practical instruction also comes with specifics about their posture and attitude in prayer – both of which reveal the focus of their heart toward God and others.  While lifting up…hands in prayer was a common “prayer position” in ancient days, it was more of a symbolic gesture meant to convey the person’s inner openness to God.  Throughout Scripture, a person’s hands are also symbolic of their activities, and Paul description of lifting up holy hands suggests that as the men pray, the offering of their daily actions are undefiled by sin and free from wickedness.

When a man focuses on devotion to prayer and godly conduct, and does them without anger or argument, the world will plainly see the difference God can make in a man’s life.

Paul also has specific instruction for the women in the Ephesian church so that they, too, know how to best represent God to the culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:9-10
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

Keep in mind that these instructions were written to believers.  These women, especially the wealthy ones, would set an example within the church family.  If an unbeliever comes in with little means, they could begin to wonder if you have to be rich in order to be saved.  Another potential issue could arise if another believer has little means, they could conclude that they aren’t favored by God because others have so much more to display.  Additionally, there is a risk of division among even the affluent believers.  The exorbitant displays of wealth among them will cause problems as egos rise as they try to outdo one another in dress, hairstyle, and jewelry.

Paul’s contrast here is really between works and wardrobe.  How is a woman displaying her understanding of value within God’s family?  The ancient upper class women would spend an excessive amount of time on their elaborate hairstyles and expensive apparel; these things would draw attention to themselves rather than to the God they claim to serve.  Paul says that a woman’s value isn’t in the perfection of her outward appearance, rather her beauty comes from her decency and good sense.  Both of these lead to a reputation of good works and point others toward God.

Paul’s directions to both groups cut against our natural, self-promoting tendencies…which is precisely why the world will notice the difference God makes in a person’s life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

In need of peace

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of peace in the world right now.

So many problems that are not easily resolved, and the feelings heaped on top of the issues make them that much harder to sort out.  Hurt.  Injustice.  Anger.  Hatred.  Hopelessness.

There are also many competing ideas on how to solve these issues and the feelings attached to them.  We hear a steady stream of suggestions: some advocate that the government should pass additional laws, some want retribution and violence, some want more of God, others are calling for less of God, and others still are looking to smaller ‘gods’ to escape – like money, stuff, isolation, the appearance of safety, anything to find what we are all deep down really looking for:

Peace.

I hear people say we should ‘Pray for Peace’ and send our ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those who need it now.  I also hear those who complain that ‘thoughts and prayers’ haven’t fixed anything, given that the tragedies keep coming.

So how’s a Christian supposed to handle all of this?  Once again, Paul’s direction to Timothy for the believers in Ephesus is helpful.  Notice that Paul recognizes our desire for peace in this life, but also look for what he says accompanies it:

1 Timothy 2:1-2
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

The goal of our prayers for all those who are in authority is so their leadership will follow God and His design for human government.  The end result of that kind of leadership will heavily influence our ability to lead a tranquil and quiet life.  However, while the Ephesian believers are to pray for these things, Paul also expects them to live life in godliness and dignity.

Godliness can best be thought of as “God-like-ness” where we mirror the characteristics of God that He has shown us.  Things like mercy, grace, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness – when we understand what those words mean and how God shows them to us, then we can mimic those traits in our own life.  Being godly is displaying God-like traits to those who are completely undeserving of that kind of treatment, just like God has done for us.

When we imitate God this way, it doesn’t guarantee that everything goes perfect for us – or that we should pretend that everything is going perfectly, either.  When life goes sideways (and it will), how well we are connected to God is on full display.  Being godly and acting with dignity is sure to stand out in the turmoil going on around us.  We need to actively pursue God-like-ness while we pray for those same characteristics to show up in our leaders.

So don’t give up.  Take Paul’s advice to Timothy and make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings…for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority.  Not because the act of praying changes anything.  Do it because you know the power of the One you are praying to. 

And then let’s get out there and reenact the qualities that God has shown us – mercy, grace, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness – for people that don’t deserve it…because, like them, we didn’t deserve it, either.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Praying for those in authority

Whom do you pray for?  When you petition God the Father, which person do you talk about the most?  Given that the average person prays about 8 minutes per day, that’s not a lot of time to discuss other people.

If I were to measure, from most to least, the time I spend on the people I talk to God about it, the list would look pretty close to – myself, my wife, my kids, my job, my extended family (sometimes), people in my church (occasionally), and then a rare ten seconds for people I don’t know who are dealing with circumstances that deep down I’m thankful I’m not personally going through.

Looking back on that list, I see a whole lot of me.  Myself, my wife, my kids, my life’s circumstances.  It’s low hanging fruit to bash myself for being so self-oriented toward God.  I’ve heard many preachers, when teaching about prayer, make the point that we’re too self-focused.

On the one hand, though, it’s hard to pray for people we don’t personally know.  We don’t know their issues and hang-ups.  We don’t know where they struggle, so it feels a little hollow to continually pray “God help them…with…their stuff”.  But just because it feels awkward or difficult seems like a flimsy reason to exclude those outside of my life’s circle from being brought up before the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

On the other hand, when I look back over my list and I look at the motivation behind the ‘me’ and the ‘my’, it comes down to the fact that I’m looking for peace in my life and the world around me that I know.  I desire for life’s events to go well.  I don’t mind the work involved, provided I can see that the outcome is beneficial.  Deep down, I long for the time when sin won’t derail what God made us to do, and I’m asking God for just a taste of that now.

So which approach is better?  Praying about my stuff (which I know all too well) or praying about other people’s stuff (which I don’t know hardly at all) ?  We could talk circles around these questions for quite a while and do nothing but increase our frustration level.

Perhaps instead of getting all twisted up about what we’re bringing to God in prayer, we should focus on what subjects God tells us He wants to hear about in our prayers.  Paul gave direction on what topics Timothy and the church in Ephesus should be bringing to God.  Remember, Ephesus wasn’t a ‘Christian’ city.  It didn’t have God-focused government.  Their history, laws, and business practices weren’t Biblically rooted.  It was a cosmopolitan metropolis with people from all over the known world passing through.  Their ideas of ‘higher powers’ in the world primarily came from Greek and Roman gods, Egyptian gods, pagan gods, and Jewish myths.

So, how does the one true God expect a Christian to pray in the midst of all that?

1 Timothy 2:1-2
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority

Paul tells Timothy that every subject we could possibly communicate to God – needs, discussions, interventions, and thankful acknowledgments – are all fair game when talking to God about our stuff and everyone else’s stuff.  But what I find interesting here is that Paul calls out a very specific group of people that the Ephesian believers shouldn’t forget to pray for – kings and all those who are in authority.

While I might pray that a certain candidate win an election, how long has it been since I petitioned God on behalf of President Obama?  Or prayerfully interceded on some issue between God and the President?  Or thanked God for something the President has done? 

But Paul didn’t just specify the top individual in a society as being the subject of our prayers, he said to pray for all those who are in authority.  Honestly, I don’t recall ever petitioning God on behalf of our town’s mayor or city council.  It’s very rare that I have asked God to send the gospel message to our county representatives or, for that matter, even the local school board.

Paul’s point is that those who have authority in our society need us to approach God on their behalf.  Paul is serious about this, too.  He’s urging believers to pray for leaders.

I think we’re going to need more than 8 minutes.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The hard work of prayer

Paul would often tell the recipients of his letters the specific things he was praying for them.  In several instances, he would ask his readers to pray for him.  However, out of all his letters in the New Testament, only once did Paul commend someone for the way they prayed.

Colossians 4:12-13
Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you.  He is always contending for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills.  For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis.

When we think of doing hard work we immediately think of manual labor.  We associate the phrase hard work with physical activities, such as digging trenches, heavy lifting, and constructing structures.  Similarly, we identify a hard worker as a person with a “sun up to sun down” work ethic; someone who is relentlessly pursuing the completion of a project.

Interestingly enough, Paul says that Epaphras works hard in his prayers for those in and around the town he was from.  When Paul wrote the letter to the Colossian believers, Epaphras was working with Paul while he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel.  It’s possible that they were as far away as Rome.

And despite that distance, Epaphras believed there was some way for him to continue to help his home community.  So he prayed.  But Epaphras didn’t just ask God to keep them safe; he wasn’t offering up a quick “God please help them with their…stuff…they’re going through” prayer request.  Instead, Epaphras prayed, and prayed hard.

When describing the way Epaphras prayed, Paul said that “he is always contending for you in his prayers”.  The Greek word for contending is “agonizomai” from which you can see a relation to our English word “agonize”.  Agonizomai was an athletic competition term, and it was used when a person had an intense struggle or fight. 

This is how Epaphras would pray for his fellow believers.  He loved these people so much, that he was willing to regularly struggle and strive before God on their behalf.  The main focus of his prayers wasn’t asking for them to be comfortable or even healthy.  Instead, he aggressively petitioned God for their maturity and that they would be fully assured that their choices were lined up with God’s desires.

Epaphras is an incredible example for us.  Whom are we willing to do heavy lifting in prayer for?  Those in our immediate family are easy ones to start with.  However, even those we are not physically close to are worth praying over.  After all, the One we pray to is near to every believer.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to stay focused while praying

About a year ago, I started a series exploring the way Jesus prayed.  My theory was that if God’s goal is to make me more Christ-like, then I should probably take a look at how, when, and where Jesus prayed.  Out of the numerous things I learned, two observations of Jesus’ prayer life stuck out:

First, that He frequently went off to quiet places to spend time with the Father in prayer.  Out of a variety of circumstances, Jesus was constantly devoting chunks of alone time to talking with His Father in Heaven.

Second, Jesus’ main concern in His prayers was the Father.  Jesus was primarily focused on the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory.  His 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.

As rich as that study was, as I moved on to other parts of Scripture I didn’t always remember these main lessons.  Looking back, my prayer life has both ebbed and flowed…tossed about by circumstance and my mental state of the moment.  One particular item I’ve struggled with is staying focused while praying. 

When I pray, I’m usually sitting in a quiet room with my eyes closed to avoid visual distractions.  My conversation with the Father starts out alright, but about half way through the fourth sentence…my mind jumps to something that needs my attention later on in the day, or I remember what I had forgotten to buy at the store, or I start to process a relationship problem that needs addressed at work or with a friend or in my family. 

It never fails…my mind picks the worst possible moment to leave the deep waters of relationship with the Father, and I starting splashing around in shallow thoughts of the smaller parts of life.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve apologized to God for mentally abandoning our quiet time together.

I don’t think my struggle is all that unique, either.  In various forms, I’ve heard other Christians voice similar difficulties.  I suspect that ancient believers also dealt with this, because towards the end of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote

Colossians 4:2-3
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.

Since Jesus’ death and resurrection bridged the gap between us and God, we know that as a child of God, we can pray at any time to our Father.  However, I think we tend to take advantage of that freedom and we get comfortable with sporadic communication.  Paul’s instruction here is to make prayer a priority, something we are devoted to.  Just like Jesus purposely setting aside chunks of time, we should as well.  Early morning, late night, commuting to work, or wherever we can consistently get time for just us and the Father; we need to make the time and protect that time from other things that will try to distract us.

This is where I’m so grateful for the second half of Paul’s instruction – stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  When my mind drifts off, I can immediately refocus my attention by thanking God for something, anything.  Giving thanks takes the focus off of me and my agenda because it makes me look toward the person I’m saying “Thank you” to.

As I have been applying Paul’s instruction, I’m realizing how a lack of thanksgiving has kept me unfocused…and being unfocused has prevented me from growing deeper with the Father.  So I need to make sure I’m purposely scheduling chunks of time with the most important Person in my life, and also telling Him about all the parts of my life that I am thankful for.  I’m certain that as I do this, my concern for the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory will increase.  Then I will begin praying like Jesus did, because my relationship with the Father will be a lot like Jesus’ relationship with the Father.

Maturity, growth, and deep relationship will not happen if we give God some sporadic moments of talk during our week.  The richness of a relationship with our Creator will only happen as we devote time to Him.  Will you make that choice?  The first step is simply saying “Thank you”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding strength in joy

Ever notice that feeling “blah” often goes hand-in-hand with feeling “weak”?

I’ve never had a moment where my mood was kinda “eh” and I was also feeling strong, or empowered, or engaged in life.  Instead, when I’m discontented or feeling a little down…it seems like everything takes additional effort – thinking, handling routine responsibilities, or just moving my body all seem to be a chore.

As he opens his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul tells them what he has been praying for them.  He’s been petitioning God for three specific things – first, that God would fill them with the knowledge of His will; second, that God would strengthen them with His power, so they could have both endurance and patience; and now, we’ll take a look at Paul’s third request.

Paul is still asking God to give the believers strength; however, this time, Paul wants them to find strength in joy.  We can all recognize that a lack of joy usually accompanies a lack of strength, but the idea of joy actually giving us strength might seem a little strange.  To fully understand his reason for connecting both strength and joy, take a look at where Paul says that our joy should come from:

Colossians 1:11-12
May you be strengthened…with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

The Colossians’ joy, and ultimately their strength, was directly tied to their perspective.  If they were looking only at their present circumstances, their own failings, or the hopelessness in the world around them, they would not be able to find any lasting enjoyment. 

Instead, Paul prays that they would recognize the benefits the Father bestows on His children.  He is the one who made it possible for them to share in the saints’ inheritance.  There was no way for any of us to merit eternal life, or to merit becoming part of God’s family.  Eternal life and the opportunity to share in the family inheritance are both gifts of God to us; all because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. 

Think back over the other gifts that God has given you…if He is able and willing to bless His children in so many ways while we still wrestle with our sinful desires, imagine how great our inheritance will be when our sin-natures have been left behind!

Thinking about such big ideas and big topics leads us to wonderment and thankfulness for what the Father has done.  Whenever we stop and honestly thank someone, we are shifting the focus off of us.  We look at the gift and the giver in full appreciation; we stop looking at ourselves.  It is in this attitude of thankfulness that we find joy, because being thankful towards God puts Him in the proper place in our lives.

As we joyfully thank God for who He is and what He has done, we are strengthened.  We can deal with the sin-soaked world that pulls us down, because we see more than just the circumstances and difficulties that are momentarily in front of us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding endurance, finding patience

We’ve all had times when we’re weary.  We tell ourselves that we just need a little recharge – whether it’s good food, or additional sleep, or some relaxation time.  Those things are good, and it is necessary build-in good eating, sleeping, and resting habits into our lives…but if we’re going to live life the way God intended us to, we’re going to need more than just a good night’s rest.

In the first chapter of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul continues spell out what he’s praying for them.  He specifically details three things that he is persistently asking God for on their behalf.  The first one was that God would fill them with the knowledge of His will (1:9).  The second request is one that we’re familiar with asking for ourselves…to be strengthened by God.  However, Paul also has a specific application as to where he wants the Colossians to use this gift from God:

Colossians 1:11
May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience

The believers are to receive strength, they are to be empowered, by a God-sized dose of His glorious might.  Paul is not looking for a “little boost” to get them through.  This strength won’t be found in us, or drummed up from within…Paul is asking that God would super-naturally strengthen them by sharing His great power, the same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead.

This is no small request!

Large requests, however, must be made with an intentional aim.  We would not walk up to our boss and ask for authority or control “just because”; no, we know better than to make that request without having a plan for how to use the resources we are asking for.

Paul’s desire is that with God’s power, the Colossians would be strengthened…for all endurance and patience.  Having endurance means to not easily succumb under suffering; whereas patience means having self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate.  On the contrary, having a lack of endurance often results in despondency or losing heart; while a lack of patience often leads to wrath or revenge.

In order to have the level of endurance and patience the Colossians needed to represent Christ to the world while navigating the sinful culture around them, they would need God’s power to be their strength.

Reading verses like this one gives us hope, for we now know that God’s power is available to us.  We don’t have to cultivate our own endurance.  We aren’t expected to be our own source of patience.  We can have both as we depend on God for His power to strengthen us.

All we have to do, is ask.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Walk this way

Spiritual gifts are meant to have physical impact.  God doesn’t give us grace, peace, wisdom, etc so that we can sit back and be comfortable.  Paul demonstrates this as he describes to the Colossians his prayer requests about them.  Look at the verses below and notice what Paul is requesting from God, but also look for why Paul wants God to give them these things:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.

Paul requested that God would fill the Colossians to the brim with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.  As comforting as that sounds, Paul expected that there would be a practical, physical result of these believers growing closer to God – namely, that their lives would begin to reflect their relationship with God.  To walk worthy of the Lord means that the believers in Colossae would conduct their lives in a way that would point to God and bring honor to Him. 

Shortly after my oldest son started his first job, I received an Instant Message from a co-worker I had never met.  Her message was both short and striking:

Good afternoon, I wanted to let you know that I met your oldest son today on my lunch break.  You should be very proud – he is a great young man.

After interacting with my son, she was so impressed with his conduct and helpfulness that she felt the need to seek out his father.  When our children follow through on the instruction we’ve given them, they bring recognition and a good reputation to our family name.  When we hear back from others – whether it is from people we know well, or from complete strangers – that our kids are making wise choices and are conducting themselves in this way, we receive honor as their parents.

The spiritual parallel is obvious.  Our walk and our fruit in every good work need to point others back toward our Heavenly Father.  Paul knows this, and as such, he prays that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of His will.  When we know God well, we know how to represent Him well – and those around us will take notice and seek the God we serve.

Paul’s desire for the believers in Colossae to walk worthy of the Lord mirrors what Jesus said during His sermon on the mount:

Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Do others see our Father in heaven based upon how we walk through each day?  If not, what are we being filled with…the knowledge of His will or something else?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Sharing our prayers

People have said it to me more times than I can remember, but I’m unsure how many of them really followed through.  I’ve even promised to do it for someone else, and yet I failed to live up to my own words.

It’s just five words, and they are quite common to hear in Christian communities:

I’ll be praying for you.

I’m not sure that I can trust others who tell me that…but that’s probably because I don’t really trust myself when I say it.  IF it happens that I remember to do the praying I’ve promised to do, it’s usually a breath or two about God “helping” them with their “stuff”.  If I feel unsure how to pray for someone, then my lack of trust for other’s prayer-promises probably comes from not knowing what, specifically, they are praying to God about my life.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us to our own meandering minds.  God’s Word is full of prayer examples, especially in Paul’s letters.  At the beginning of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives us a great example:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord

The first thing that stands out is that Paul’s not spending time praying about their circumstances.  Instead, he’s talking to God about the Colossians’ relationship with God in the midst of their circumstances.  Paul doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of their situation…rather his emphasis is that they would know God and His purposes. 

When we are walking closely with God, we are filled with the knowledge of His will and we more clearly see His desires and purposes.  We trust better.  We relax and watch for God.  We see life with a wisdom and spiritual understanding that is most definitely God-given.  These are the things Paul continually prayed for the believers in Colossae.  Not for “God’s help” in their lives, but that they would know Him and know Him well

The second thing that stands out is that Paul told them what he was praying for them.  How encouraging would it be for someone to tell you that they were praying these things for you?  To have a person specifically tell me that they were asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that information would be perspective-changing.  It would lift my eyes away from my “stuff” and circumstances; instead I would begin to look to God for His wisdom and spiritual understanding.

This is how we support one another in prayer.  Let’s petition God about relationships, not circumstances.  But let’s also encourage one another by sharing with others what we’re praying on their behalf.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Praying for those we haven't met

Let’s face it.  Praying for God’s help is awkward when you’re not intimately involved in the situation.  Whether it’s request for prayer from a good friend, a family member, or even a total stranger…we often don’t know what to say to God about it.  I mean, He’s God, after all…shouldn’t He know what they need more than I do?  How does my few moments of a mumbled, semi-sympathetic prayer really help anyone else?

Yet we often feel the same way even when we are praying for someone we do know.  When someone we love and care about – even those we deeply care about – are in another town and not in our day-to-day lives, how do we pray for them?  Again, it just feels awkward because God knows what’s going on better than I do.

In both these cases, I usually end up praying something like “God…please help them with their…stuff…they’re going through.  I pray that they rely on You.  Amen.”  If I’m honest, that kind of prayer leaves me feeling rather unsatisfied and wondering if I have just wasted my time – and maybe God’s, too.

The Apostle Paul came in contact with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people over the known world as he spread the good news about Jesus and ministered to those who believed on Him for eternal life.  However, Paul didn’t talk to everyone.  There were churches started in other towns by others who were also spreading the gospel. 

At some point during his journeys, Paul met a man named Epaphras.  Biblical evidence suggests that he was from the town of Colossae, which was about 100 miles inland from Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey.  Although Epaphras was away from his hometown while he was ministering with Paul, the believers in Colossae were always on his heart.  His prayers for them were full of passion and concern…so much so that Paul also joined Epaphras in prayer, and then wrote the believers in Colossae a letter of encouragement and teaching.

Before we jump into Paul’s letter, stop and think about the situation.  Epaphras hadn’t been in recent contact with the Colossae church (no phones or email) and Paul has never met them.  Certainly Epaphras gave Paul some ideas on what he could be praying…but what, specifically, would he say to God?  What would you say?  Or to ask a question that might be even more daunting – What would you write to believers who are total strangers to you?  What reason would you give that would convince them that your advice is worth listening to?

Here’s what Paul had to say about his reasons for writing the letter:

Colossians 2:1-3
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person.  I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

Paul’s aim is to encourage believers, even those he hasn’t come in direct contact with.  He desires for all believers to walk confident in their understanding, knowledge, and relationship with Christ.  There is much to learn from his example and from what he desires to teach the Colossian church.

For now, let’s ask God to show us how to be an encouragement to others – even those we haven’t met.

Keep Pressing,
Ken