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 requests

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

Perspective and a prayer request

Ever see a situation on the horizon, and you know, without a doubt, it’s something that you’re going to have to deal with?  You know you can’t avoid it.  It won’t be pleasant.  It’s probably not what you would have wanted.  But somehow, you just know – that the only way out is through.

Maybe you’ve been there with a relationship.  Maybe it was your friend, a boss, a competitor, or even a government office.  Right now, for me – it’s my health.  I greatly appreciate the emails of concern, consolation, and the offers to pray for me (and I really, really hope you follow up on that!).  I’m on the mend, but this is not the end of whatever is off-kilter in my systems.  There will be more tests to take at a later date, more mysteries to be unraveled.  But for now, I am to rest and recover, knowing full well that the only way out is through.

Just yesterday, God brought a passage to me that helps put it all in perspective.  Near the end of Paul’s recorded ministry, he is on his way to Jerusalem.  He knows what will happen if he goes back.  In fact, everyone knows what he will face.  The devout Jews would turn on this former rabbinical star in a heartbeat.  Paul would be arrested, beaten, and quite likely killed.  So, why go back?  I’ll let him answer that:

Acts 20:17-24
Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church.  When they came to him, he said to them:

“You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and during the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.  You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house.  I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.

And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in every town the Holy Spirit warns me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me.  But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”


Oh wow, does that resonate!  But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose…that is a man who has clear eyes and proper perspective.  He sees the value of his life, not in his own comforts and desires, but in his purposeful pursuit of the work God has given him – to testify to [the good news] of God’s grace.

That’s the perspective we need in order to handle the difficulties we see on the horizon.  Stop looking at our immediate circumstances, get aligned with God, see from His vantage point, and then look back down on what we’re facing.  Difficulties can be managed when they have been placed in their proper context.  That doesn’t mean that the difficulties will be removed – Paul knew there were chains and afflictions waiting.  There’s no amount of perspective that makes them go away.  However, looking at life from God’s viewpoint gives us the strength to go through.

So if you choose to petition our Great God on my behalf, I would rather you not pray for healing.  If I fully recover, that’s great.  If I end up worse off, that’s fine.  If I now have a “new normal”, so be it.  Instead, I would ask that you pray I stay aligned with God, keep His perspective on everything, and do the work God has given me.  My prayer is that you also learn to live this way.

Acts 20:24
But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.


Keep Pressing,
Ken

Love grows

We often say that our “love grows.” 

When we put these two words together, we generally mean that we want our feelings of affection increase or that we want the bond felt between us to become stronger.  We recognize that a loving relationship isn’t a static, one-and-done feeling, that it does develop…but I think we’re a little squishy when we try and describe exactly how this happens.

Sure, we’ll say that love grows in a variety of ways: over time, through shared experiences, and being together in the ups and downs of life.  If you talk to others about growing in love with their spouse, their closest friends, or with a group of people, what is usually identified as the main driver of growth seems to be surviving a long time without abandoning one another.

In his letters, Paul often told his readers that he was praying for them, but it wasn’t a generic “I’ll be praying for you” platitude.  He didn’t just ask God to “help” them with their “stuff”.  We’re going to take a close look at not only what Paul told the believers in Philippi that he was praying for them, but also the reasons Paul gave for making his specific prayer requests.

So for starters, let’s look at the beginning Paul’s prayer request:

Philippians 1:9
And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment


Immediately, we see that Paul wants their love to grow in two specific areas.  We’ll take a look at the outcome of this kind of growth in a later post.  First we need to understand what he means by knowledge and every kind of discernment.

The Greek word for knowledge refers to a full, intimate understanding of a subject.  Similarly, the Greek word Paul chose for discernment speaks to how we perceive something or someone.  The word refers to something deeper than just a sensory perception – sight, touch, smell – instead this discernment relies on the intellect.

Blind love or a love that is dependent upon our emotions is not ground for the growth of a relationship.  As our feelings ebb and flow, we can end up doing more harm then good.

True Christian love isn’t shallow or squishy.  It is grounded in an clear understanding and has an intelligent direction.  This shouldn’t surprise us, because, after all, that’s exactly how God loves us.

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 - 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

If you could ask God for just one thing

When I was a child, I would sometimes think about what Heaven would be like.  All I really understood was that Heaven was this great place where we would “be with God forever” and everyone would be happy.  Well, to my little mind, the greatest place I would want to spend long lengths of time in would obviously be chock full of my favorite Saturday morning cartoon toys.  I had it all planned…when I got to Heaven, I was going to ask God for the ENTIRE COLLECTION of He-Man action figures and playsets.  Pure bliss, as far as I was concerned, required a large amount of the best toys I could imagine.

Even as I’ve grown and matured in my understanding of God, Heaven, and Eternity Future, my desire to ask God for “just one thing” hasn’t subsided, but the “one thing” I would ask for has changed.  At various stages of my life, it’s been financial assistance, romantic love, new friends, a new job, a healthy baby, my own health, the health of someone else, a reasonably-comfortable life, and many other things. 

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but if I’m feeling very spiritually mature, I tell people that when I get to Heaven, the only thing I plan on asking God for is a blue-ray history lesson narrated by Him.  I just want to know why stuff happened like it did and how He worked through it all.

But when you look closely at my progressing list of “just one thing” requests, not much has changed since I was fully enamored by plastic toys.  Even though I’m asking Him about good things for myself or others, I’m still treating God like a cosmic vending machine.  Even if God actually gave me the toys, the money, and the good health…each “one thing” item is still something that I could lose, something that could be taken away from me.

In the second stanza of Psalm 27, David asks God for “one thing”.  His ask puts his life and God in the proper perspective:

Psalm 27:4-6
I have asked one thing from the Lord;
it is what I desire:
to dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
gazing on the beauty of the Lord
and seeking Him in His temple.
For He will conceal me in His shelter
in the day of adversity;
He will hide me under the cover of His tent;
He will set me high on a rock.
Then my head will be high
above my enemies around me;
I will offer sacrifices in His tent with shouts of joy.
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Relationship.  Created Being relating back to his Creator.  That is the most important “one thing” we could ask for, and it will not be taken away from us, not even in the day of adversity.  However, we often let life’s issues and detours distract us from the true aim of our lives – to know God and to be known by Him. 

I think C.S. Lewis summed us up rather well, even if it does sting a little:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It’s good to pray about all our requests, cares, and concerns, for God has instructed us to do so (Philippians 4:6).  However, the next time you do ask for something, go for the biggest thing you can ask Him for.  Ask God to give you Himself.  Seek a deeper relationship with Him.  Ask for even a glimpse at His glory.  Ask to be closer to Him, even if that means dealing with enemies and adversity.  God’s beauty and splendor exceeds everything we can see on this earth.

Ask for Him.  He will not disappoint.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Show me the way

Other than physical healing, the most common prayer request we bring before God is a request for guidance.  We ask God to “reveal His path” or “guide our steps” or “show us how to handle a person/situation”.  And rightfully so – God knows everything better than we do, so He’s the best one to give advice and direction whenever we get stuck.

But has it ever crossed your mind that sometimes God chooses to not answer our requests for guidance?

David had plenty of instances in his life where he needed God’s guidance.  From the shepherding of his youth, to evading Saul’s desire to kill him, to leading Israel as King…David constantly relied on God to get him through it all.

Fortunately for us, David wrote down many of his conversations with God in prayerful songs.  Throughout the psalms he wrote, David returns to the idea that he needs the Lord’s guidance.  However, David’s request also recognizes our two-way relationship with God.  So, we need to watch for David’s part in the relationship as we read:

Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 12-14
Make Your ways known to me, Lord; teach me Your paths.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation;
I wait for You all day long.

The Lord is good and upright; therefore He shows sinners the way.
He leads the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.
All the Lord’s ways show faithful love and truth
to those who keep His covenant and decrees. 

Who is the person who fears the Lord?
He will show him the way he should choose.
He will live a good life, and his descendants will inherit the land.
The secret counsel of the Lord is for those who fear Him,
and He reveals His covenant to them.

David can’t flippantly live life and then expect that God will be his magic 8-ball or cosmic vending machine whenever he gets stuck.  If David trusts God enough to ask about the unknown, then David should at least be following the known instructions God has already given him.

David notes four responsibilities we have before we can ask God to show us His way:

patiently wait
be humble
keep His covenant and decrees
respectfully fear the Lord

Asking God for guidance means that we recognize His superior understanding of life; therefore, we should first regard what God has already revealed before we ask Him about things or situations that He hasn’t yet revealed.

Notice too, that David doesn’t say we have to be sinlessly perfect, either.  God is willing to show sinners the way, provided we humbly understand Whom it is we’re asking for guidance.

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

The mystery of the Messiah

When Paul wrote his letter to the believers in Colossae, he was in prison for preaching the gospel.  He wasn’t living the good life…at best, he was spending his days chained to a Roman guard.  Quite possibly, he was chained to a dungeon wall.  And at the end of his letter, Paul understandably asks for prayer.

If you were Paul, what would you ask them to pray? 

Honestly, if I were in that situation, I’d be asking for people to be praying that I’d get out of there.  By my reasoning, prison would be limiting to the ministry that God gave Paul on the road to Damascus so many years prior.  He could reach so many more people with the Good News of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection if he were free to move about the world.  Instead, Paul’s on lockdown.  But Paul doesn’t ask for prayer about that.  Take a look at what he asks instead:

Colossians 4:3-4
At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah – for which I am in prison – so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak.

Paul’s focus isn’t on where he is at the moment.  His location isn’t his primary concern.  Instead, Paul is watching for God to provide opportunities for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah.

Jesus – the Messiah – coming to earth as humanity’s only option for rescue is a mystery to everyone outside of God’s family.  Why would the King of the Universe choose to be born a helpless baby, whose primary goal in life was to die for something that wasn’t His fault?  Why would someone so limitless choose to be so limited?

Those are legitimate questions, and there are many more that people will honestly ask about the mystery of the Messiah.  We need to be watching for opportunities to share the message that gives Eternal Life and hope for the here and now.  Paul knew that he had to lift his eyes above his circumstances…he didn’t need to focus on his current difficulties or limitations, instead he needed to watch for opportunities to reveal the Good News to others around him.

We Christians have a unique opportunity every year at this time to share the mystery of the Messiah.  For the weeks leading up to Christmas and for a short time after, everyone seems to be a little more open to thinking about spiritual questions and how God interacts with their lives.  I pray that you’ll be looking for these opportunities instead of looking at your current limitations.  Be ready and willing to share Jesus with those who so desperately need Him.

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 

The good old days

The “good old days”. 

They always sound rather ideal, don’t they?  Or at the very least, better than now?

Times were simpler.  People were better.  Life was easier.  And we didn’t know how good we had it.

At least, that’s how our over-romanticized memories go.

A small scratch on the surface of any “golden age” reveals that the gold coloring is merely an overlay.  What lies underneath looks all too familiar.  In any time period, we find greed and lust, selfishness and hoarding, exploitation and lying, jealousy and promiscuity.  The human condition has not changed - we have the same struggles as our relatives did thousands of years ago.  The only difference is that now we have more technology…which we use to hide, or in some cases magnify, our sinfulness.

Read through this section of Psalm 119.  There are particular pitfalls that the author wants to avoid.  Find them, and see if they resonate with you also.

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me, Lord, the meaning of Your statutes, and I will always keep them.
Help me understand Your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart.
Help me stay on the path of Your commands, for I take pleasure in it.
Turn my heart to Your decrees and not to material gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless; give me life in Your ways.
Confirm what You said to Your servant, for it produces reverence for You.
Turn away the disgrace I dread; indeed, Your judgments are good.
How I long for Your precepts!  Give me life through Your righteousness.

The dangers which the psalmist wanted to avoid are found in the center of this section.  He asked God to Turn my heart to Your decrees and not to material gain and Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless.  The psalmist didn’t think material gain and worthless sights were just minor distractions, either.  He viewed them as being complete opposites of both the vision and goal that the Lord had for his life.

Even 1000 years later, Jesus said to those who would listen:

Matthew 6:24
No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot be slaves of God and of money.

Luke 12:15
He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”

When we see these same sin struggles in the world around us, it does us no good to lament about how previous times were better.  We’re simply fooling ourselves if we think down that path.  A thousand years for before Jesus came, the psalmist had the best response – asking God to turn my heart to Your decrees and turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless.

That can be our prayer, too.  Focusing on God’s ways, as He has revealed them in the Scriptures, will bring about the quality and depth of life we desire…which is much better than trying to console ourselves with over-romanticized memories of years past.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Praying for protection

On many occasions, I have prayed that God would protect my family.  This request is usually made when they are leaving the house to go anywhere, whether it’s a quick trip to the grocery store or somewhere further out, like the next town over.  The distance doesn’t really matter; it’s the fact that I’m not physically with them (and therefore I can’t protect them) that bothers me enough that I ask God to watch over them.

But that’s about as far as any of our prayers for protection typically go, isn’t it?  When we ask God to protect someone, we’re typically looking for “traveling mercies”, or perhaps we’re asking God to keep a child from doing something irrevocably stupid.  Honestly though, the motive of these requests has a lot more to do with avoiding hardships…like car accidents and negative life-altering choices.  When we get right down to it, in our requests for protection we’re looking out more for our own comfort than for God’s glory and reputation.

During His ‘High Priestly Prayer’, the disciples continued to listen to Jesus pray to the Father about them.  As you read this section of Jesus’ prayer, look for how He requested that the Father protect them.

John 17:11-15 I am no longer in the world,
but they are in the world, and I am coming to You.

Holy Father, protect them by Your name that You have given Me,
so that they may be one as We are one.
While I was with them, I was protecting them by Your name that You have given Me.
I guarded them and not one of them is lost, except the son of destruction,
so that the Scripture may be fulfilled.

Now I am coming to You, and I speak these things in the world
so that they may have My joy completed in them. I have given them Your word.
The world hated them because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world.
I am not praying that You take them out of the world
but that You protect them from the evil one.

So what kind of protection is Jesus asking the Father for here? 

Since we know the rest of the disciples’ stories from here on out, we know that they did not have a comfortable life.  They faced even more trials and persecutions after the cross than they did before the cross.  So Jesus isn’t praying for their comfort…then what kind of “protection” is Jesus seeking from the Father?

Jesus was asking for the Father’s protection so that they may be one as We are one and also to be protected from the evil one.

It was Jesus’ relationship with the Father that kept Him on mission.  His “oneness” with the Father was why He was able to complete the work the Father gave Him, even when other people or Satan himself tried to derail His purpose. 

For the previous three years, the disciples had Jesus as the example of remaining connected to the Father.  But now that example, that protection by proximity, was going to be removed.  Jesus knew that for the disciples to be effective in spreading the gospel message, they would need to be unified – in purpose and relationship, both with the Father and with each other.  Their “oneness” with the Father was a greater need than their own comfort, and their unity with each other would need the Father’s protection. 

The same rings true for us modern-day believers.  For us to complete the mission that God has given us, our “oneness” with the Father needs to be a greater priority than our comforts or preferences.  So let’s begin to pray like Jesus did and ask the Father to protect those closest to us – so that they may be one with the Father, just like Jesus was.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

In Jesus' name (part 2)

After Jesus and the disciples finished the Last Supper, they walked from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane.  They would have passed by vineyards, along with the temple and its golden carving of a vine on it; either of which could have inspired Jesus’ next illustration:

John 15:1-2 I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper.  Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.

Producing fruit is the Father’s goal as He interacts with a believer’s life.  Jesus went on to tell the disciples just how this fruit was going to grow:

John 15:4-5 Remain in Me, and I in you.  Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.

To remain means to “stay connected with” – other translations render the Greek word as abide.  The idea Jesus is trying to impress on the disciples is that the fruitfulness, the success of their future ministries, is dependent upon their individual connected-ness with Him.

Next, Jesus restates His great promise for their prayer requests. 

John 15:7-8 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.

Remaining connected to Jesus will shape how we see the world and the people in it.  As such, seeing the needs of those around us will reshape our prayer requests to the Father.  Jesus also mentions that our goal is to bring glory to the Father, which means we point ourselves and others toward Him with praise, by honoring Him, or by celebrating Him.  We see this in Jesus’ own actions, because He continually pointed to God in His rightful place in the Universe.

Truthfully, however, the term remaining in Jesus feels a little vague.  Personally, I need something a little more hands-on…so I wonder, exactly what does that look like?  How does remaining connected to Jesus lead to much fruit and demonstrate that we’re followers of Jesus?

As always, Jesus shows us the way:

John 15:12,16-17 This is My command: love one another as I have loved you…I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.  This is what I command you: love one another.

We are right to make requests “in Jesus’ name” when we represent Him in the way He prescribed.  We represent Him best when we love one another as Jesus has loved us.  When we choose to do so, we remain in Christ, we produce fruit…which brings glory to the Father.  And the Father happily says yes to the requests of those who imitate His Son and His Son’s love for others.

So we see now that praying “in Jesus name” isn’t a special phrase that convinces the Father to grant our requests.  Instead, it is a reflection of our relationships:

With the Father – because we are claiming to represent Christ
With others – because we are to love them like Christ has loved us

There are several self-checks that come out of understanding what Jesus meant for us when we pray in His name.  But that is exactly what Jesus was trying to communicate to His disciples as they walked to the garden.

Keep Pressing,
Ken