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: priorities

Watching with purpose

Back in the dark ages – before we all had our phones constantly in-hand – I had to pick up my wife and boys from the airport.  The three of them were returning home after visiting her parents for few weeks.  I knew the flight number and expected time of arrival, and so I parked the car and waited in baggage claim.  I was there early and with nothing to do – because nobody stared down at their phones back then – I decided to do some people-watching while I kept an eye out for them.

It doesn’t matter how eclectic your social circles are, when you’re at an airport, you will see all kinds of people you don’t normally run into.  However, one cannot simply “watch people” when they are “people-watching”; there is a certain level of discretion that has to be maintained.  The trick is to observe without others catching you doing what really amounts to some short-term staring.  Locking eyes with an observee can be awkward at the very least, and depending on the person (or their companion), being caught could lead to an uncomfortable scene in a public place.

Between the clothing chosen, the style of walk, and the expression on their faces, each person was making some sort of statement about who they were and what they were about.  There were fashion statements, financial statements, sports statements, political statements, attitude statements – a sweeping variety of stories were being told as I watched them all walk by me.  Some people treat the airport like a catwalk runway, others do their best to go unnoticed.  Some people obviously chose to wear too many clothes, but as this was summertime, many others decidedly wore too few.

As my eyes bounced from person to person and from story to story, I quickly became lost in this time-killing activity.  I hadn’t forgotten why I was at the airport, but watching for my family was no longer my primary task.  After some time, my situation dawned on me.  What would happen if my wife and kids found me and walked up before I even saw them?  Simply missing them because I was watching others would be embarrassing enough, but imagine the kind of reception if they walked up while I was distracted and observing someone who had chosen to wear as little as possible?

With that revelation, I quickly snapped back to the task at hand.  I wasn’t unaware of the other people around me, but my focus was now on what was most important to me.  A short time later, they came down the escalator and toward their baggage carousel.  I was greeted with hugs from my boys and a kiss from my wife – and I was thankful that I had made the right choice before it was too late.

We, as Christians, also have a return to watch for.  Jesus said He will be coming back, and He told many parables alluding to His future return.  However, by our reckoning, it has been many years since He said that, and there are many distractions in this life – fashion, finances, sports, politics, attitudes, and numerous others.  It’s easy to lose focus and start living selfishly. 

So let’s take a look at something Jesus said about His return:

Luke 12:43-46
Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that servant’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unfaithful.

While being afraid of getting “caught in the act” should not be our main motivation to avoid selfish behavior, there are certainly consequences to how we spend our time while we wait for Jesus’ promised return.  There are significant opportunities and honors available for those who continue to do the work God has given them; but there are equally dire punishments for the servants of God who neglect their responsibilities and abuse others.

Notice that the servant never forgot that His master was returning, but doing his job and watching for the master’s return was no longer his primary task.  He convinced himself that his master’s delay would continue, so he selfishly took advantage of those around him.  He probably believed he had plenty of time to clean up his mess before the master came back.  He couldn’t have been more wrong – and there wasn’t a chance for a do-over.

We certainly don’t want to end up like that!  We want to be like a soldier found at his post, faithfully trusting the promise of the one who said He would return.  But with all the distractions we face, how can we keep our focus?  Our best option is to take the Apostle John’s advice:

1 John 2:28
So now, little children, remain in Him so that when He appears we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

When we intentionally spend time with Jesus, we remain in Him and keep His priorities.  Doing so means we will avoid the embarrassment and shame of the wicked servant.  Instead, Jesus’ return will be a joyful occasion, one where we can be confident that He will approve what we have been doing while we watch for His return.

Keep Pressing,
Ken  

Resolutions about maturity

It’s that time of year again…time to make resolutions to be better at something.  We know the big ones – get in shape, eat better, learn a new skill – and we know that we should do these things and they have lasting, positive benefits to our lives.  But why is it, that by sometime in February, we’ve given up on working towards them? 

When we’re honest – we recognize that we give up on these resolutions because we don’t value the end product highly enough.  We aren’t diligent in pursuing it, and we become lazy.  This doesn’t mean that we do not understand or fully trust the benefits of exercise, a good diet, or learning something new…it just shows that we value them less than other competing priorities in our lives.

Did you know that the same thing happens to us spiritually?  Other things crowd into our lives and we sometimes don’t value our growth as a Christ-follower or our relationship with God like we should.  We can become spiritually lazy.  It’s not a new problem for Christians, either.

After starting a discussion of Christ’s superiority as our high priest and reviewing some of the great benefits available to a believer who partners with Jesus, the author pauses to say:

Hebrews 5:11-14
We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become slow to understand.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation.  You need milk, not solid food.  Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature – for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.

Looking at this passage, it is clear that this letter was written to people who have already accepted Christ as the substitutionary payment for their sins.  The solid food is the teaching that deals with righteousness, or right-living, before God.  Because these “big babies” haven’t progressed to solid food, they cannot grasp the implications of the Greater Message of future partnership with the Greater Messenger.

Hebrews 6:1
Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity

If you could travel into a mother’s womb and speak with the prenatal child, I’m sure he would be very confused as to why he was growing arms and legs and a mouth.  He has no real, tangible need for them so long as he remains in the womb.  However, we would desperately explain that while he sees little use for them in his present stage in life, they will become vitally important for the way he interacts with the world of his next stage of life.

The entire New Testament, except for John’s Gospel, speaks to us like we are the child still in the womb.  The vast majority of the New Testament is written to believers and contains encouragement to put in the effort now to grow towards maturity…because the level of maturity we develop here and now will directly impact how we interact with the world of our next stage of life.

Hebrews 6:11-12
Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become lazy, but imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance.

Keep at it.  Keep going towards maturity.  Not everyone does, but those who trust Jesus’ offer of partnership and patiently wait for it, they will obtain it.

That’s a resolution worth keeping, one with results that echo into eternity.

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
 

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

Intentionally alone

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

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

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

Some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Priorities and prayer

If we were to list our priorities in life, we would likely say that we want to have our basic needs met, we want to have a little bit ‘extra’ in reserve, and then we think that we’re in a good place to find out what God would have in store for us.  However, Jesus desires for us to have our objectives in life properly organized.  What he says should have top priority usually isn’t first in line for us.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, and clothing] will be provided for you.

Matthew 7:7-8 Keep asking, and it will be given to you.  Keep searching, and you will find.  Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

See how Jesus flips the order on us?  He actually claims that pursuing a life that lines up with God’s priorities is more important than our basic sustenance…so much so that he makes two promises – that our basic needs will be met AND that when we aim for God’s kingdom, we’ll obtain it.

In order to drive home the point that our heavenly Father will actually reveal his kingdom and his righteousness to us, Jesus uses a comparison that we’re all familiar with – a father providing for the needs of his son.

Matthew 7:9-10 What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?

We read this and immediately think ‘Of course the father wouldn’t fulfill a good request with something useless (a stone) or something dangerous (a snake)’.

Anticipating this reaction, Jesus gives a comparison to demonstrate his application point:

Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Whenever a speaker wants his audience to understand something, he will make sure to drive the point by repeating himself in several different forms.  So don’t miss out on what Jesus is saying in this passage. 

Our pursuit of living as part of God’s kingdom and purposes is the most important aim for us in this life.  It’s even more important that what we would consider to be the basic necessities – food, drink, and clothing.  Jesus promises that the Father will fulfill our pursuit of kingdom living, even claiming that the Father is better at granting this request than we are at taking care of those closest to us.

Now that I’m convinced of the priority of seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness, I just need to answer the question ‘how’.  How do we do this?  How is the kingdom possible to obtain?

Jesus said keep asking…keep searching…keep knocking…keep pursuing it by talking to God about it.  Ask God about his kingdom, search for ways to live rightly in God’s eyes, knock when we have questions about what to do next.  In a word, we need to

Pray.

Keep Pressing,
Ken