PT 1 – Pray without ceasing.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17)

To “pray without ceasing” means to have our minds always on the things of God, to be in constant communication with him, so that every moment may be as fruitful as possible. How can we learn to “pray without ceasing?” Here is a practical step to consider: 
Plan times for prayer: Striving to have an attitude of prayer can seem overwhelming.

To understand and develop the mindset of continual prayer, we must start with developing the habit of intentional prayer.

  • At meals – If the practice of praying at meals is not something you were taught or do right now, I recommend it as an easy way to pray more. For those of us who follow this practice, it is likely that we quickly thank God for our food and get on with eating. However, being more mindful in our prayer takes little time and can immensely increase the effectiveness of it.
  • When reading Scripture – Pray whenever you have time in the Scriptures. Start your daily Bible reading with prayer for God’s Spirit to give insight and clarity as you read; end your reading with a prayer inspired by what you’ve read. Recite Scripture as you pray and elaborate on how it speaks to you of what God is doing or wants to do in you. Do something similar when you sit down to do in-depth Bible study. Make any time you meditate on Scripture a time of prayer.
  • At the start and end of the day – When you wake up, dedicate the day to God in prayer. Praying at the start of the day focuses your mind on prayerfulness that will help carry you through the day, while developing the habit of constant prayer. When you get ready for bed, thank God for his provision, and pray through your day. This will help quiet your mind and heart as you give over the things of the day to Jesus.

If you prayed at all these times, even for just a minute or two, you would pray at least six times a day. That may be more than you pray now, but it fits relatively easily into an existing schedule, and none of those times need to take too long. 

The battle is all around us.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”  Ephesians 6:12

A few years ago, I attended a military Christian conference for serving and retired military. I remember listening to a conversation between two retired generals discussing their struggles during their active military service. Both men confronted men trying to destroy their nations. However, as Christ’s followers, they both recognized that they had seen a different, more destructive enemy. The Asian General suggested that although the north and south had significant military forces facing off against each other, the real enemy was the evil one who destroyed nations and the people within them. The African general agreed. 
The conversation seemed surreal. The world likes to identify our enemies and assume which people it needs to fight. These combat veterans agreed upon a different, more powerful enemy. Both men had made appropriate combat estimates and decided that the real enemy was not other men but the evil forces that sought to destroy men. One general spoke about how he tried to impart to his men that their goal was not to destroy those men facing them but to save them from the clutches of the evil one who seeks to separate people from God. 
Paul’s warning to the Ephesians is a message for all humanity. It emphasizes the need for all to recognize the actual battle. To enter this battle prepared to win requires spiritual preparation rather than physical. He is unequivocal on how we must prepare for the war. It does not involve a part-time faith where we find time in our busy schedules to prepare to serve in God’s army. He suggests we must go full bore and utilize scripture to know and recognize the truth and use it when needed. We must stand on the promise of salvation and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to face an enemy who seeks to undermine our faith. We must understand and tackle the real problem head-on to bring Glory to God’s mighty name. 
Understanding and application are solidified and reinforced by prayer, if you have not done so already or have not done it in a while, speak with God about the enemies you are facing and seek His help. The world only understands the enemy they have created and doesn’t want to acknowledge that there is a driving force behind all the unfairness, oppression, greed, and destruction, and it is Satan. The demons of the dark world seek to covertly defeat us by convincing us that our problems are fake, but they are real. Get on your knees so God can stand you toe-to-toe with our true enemy. 

Surrounded by His glory!

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 

Summer seems to have finally come to the Miramichi, and I have been enjoying the sun’s warmth. We now have had six days straight of sunshine. That may not seem unusual for the rest of this country, but we in the Chi have had rain five days a week since mid-June. Most of the summer has been indoors, searching Google for instructions on building a large boat (the Ark has already been done). 

At first, the rain bothered me. But when I seemed to need it most, my son sent me a video of my grandson and his friends swimming in the puddles that formed on his street. It brought a smile and a flashback to the time I enjoyed being in the rain. I was raised in Toronto and have since lived in many cities, large and small. I swam in the puddles that formed on the street, slid on the flooded grassy parks, and swam au natural in the ditches and streams. As a child, the rain was fun, but I must admit that as I grew older and busier, I became fond of the beautiful man-made structures and looked less and less at what God had made. 

However, as I felt the sun these last few days, I wondered if I had taken God’s creation for granted. We prayed often for the sun this summer because that was what we wanted, not what we may have needed. Sitting in the sun, I reflected on the summer of rain and was reminded that because of the rain, we did not have forest fires like many places across the country. We did not have flooding or storm surges. Our wells are full, and our flora is flush. Life went on, and whether we acknowledge it or not, the rain was good.  

I am blessed to live in the countryside, surrounded by trees, wildlife, and clean air. It’s only been recently that I have grown to appreciate my environment. When I moaned about the rain this summer, I wondered if something happened to me. I feared I was becoming the grumpy old guy, sitting with a group of grumpier men who were never content with anything around us. Too often, I missed out on our God, the Creator, because the weather was not what I wanted. I missed out on the One who reveals Himself through nature, the rain, and the sunshine. Don’t let that happen to you. Look around at the wonder of creation where it is in the land, the sea, and the air, and give thanks that God deemed that it was good. 

On Monday, I was awakened by the rising morning sun. I had forgotten to close the curtains last evening before I went to bed. As the sun rose, I was treated to a beautiful display of God’s glory and a reminder that our God is with us as the sun rises and sets. 

God is not nature, but He created it for both His glory and our pleasure. As you go about your day, whether during your commute to and from work or while sitting on a deck chair, look and recognize the glory of God and give thanks.  

Tip Toeing …

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” Hebrews 4:16 (NIV) 

Do you understand that we have the privilege and right to pray and to believe and expect God to do what he wants and is willing to do in the life of His children? When you pray, do you approach God with boldness and authority? Boldness relates to confidence or assurance, while authority suggests the right, privilege, accessibility, and freedom to pray to God.  

We should approach God boldly and fearlessly and leave our prayers with Him, expecting God to hear and answer our prayers. We’ll never be able to accomplish what God wants us to achieve as a body (your church or our fellowship) or as individuals until we learn to come before God in dependence on Him and come with the authority delegated to us. 

If we do not enter prayer believing we have authority with God, Satan will attack us. He will challenge our authority with God. If that is true, when and where do you think Satan will make his most vicious assault, not when we do our jobs or sit around enjoying life but when we are in prayer? Ephesians 6 reminds us that our battle is against unseen forces to keep us off our knees and challenge our authority before God. Satan doesn’t come after us weakly, but he attacks boldly. But if you are a believer, the supernatural power of God possesses you, and you can overcome these attacks and bind Satan to prevent him from interfering with your prayers.  

Too often, we pray weakly and fearfully instead of coming to God based on what He said He could do. Too often, we grope along in life weakly. The church is weak. The church is weak because its praying is weak. Our country is weak because the church is weak. 

When you pray, do you feel that you enter God’s presence, tiptoeing around His throne room, unsure what to say for fear of what God will do? Do you second guess your prayers or doubt them because you aren’t sure how God will respond? This mindset is contrary to what God expects of believers. He wants us to bring our prayers to Him. If we come before God in humiliation and desperation, everything in heaven will move in response to prayer. 

Prayer is the most powerful tool in the hands of believers. Coming to God with confidence and authority and coming to Him egotistical and proudly are different. Our authority is linked to our humility and absolute and total dependence on God. Prayer is a privilege we should exercise often. We should do so with boldness and authority. 

Look – Listen – React

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”‘ (Exodus 3:1-4, NIV).

Moses looked, listened, and reacted to God’s call, he began a journey that brought the Israelites back to God. May I share four simple steps I discovered in this passage that might help you see, hear, and react to God? 

Step 1: (v1) – Get Away – Moses got away from people by going to the far side of the wilderness. 
Where can you go for quiet and solitude?
Maybe a walk around the neighbourhood, a stroll in the woods, or a trip to the spa or your garage. Any place you can find quiet and closed off or away from others.

Step 2: (v1) Get Alone – Moses went to where God was by going to His Mountain. 
Where do you feel close to God? 
Maybe it’s a sacred place like a church, or perhaps just being surrounded by God’s creation brings you closer to Him.

Step 3: (v3) Pay Attention – When Moses saw what God was doing with the burning bush, he looked closer and noticed it. 
What has God been doing around you that you need to pay closer attention to? 
Perhaps it’s the sky’s colour as the sun sets or hearing a baby laugh or maybe it’s getting caught up in the sheer extravagance of God’s creation. 

Step 4: (v4) Be Ready to Listen – When Moses heard God calling out his name, he acknowledged that he was ready to listen. 
Are you ready to listen to what God has to say? 
This could be the most challenging part because it requires us to listen, not just hear. It can be challenging for those who have forgotten how to slow down and relax. Also, God may tell you something you don’t want to hear. For example, He instructed Moses to go to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. 

Moses asked God questions, saying he wasn’t the man for the job and didn’t want to do it. Maybe that is how you react when you sense God speaking to you and are afraid. Moses eventually came around because God met every question with an answer that Moses couldn’t poke holes in. God has the answers to your questions, and He reminds us that He is with us when we are doing His will. 

I pray today begins your journey of looking, listening and reacting to what God wants to do. 

I believe, help me with my unbelief.

The message found in Mark 9 speaks to the need to believe and trust in God. A desperate father approaches Jesus to have his son healed of impure spirits. The father had already gone to the disciples, but they were unsuccessful. So, he confronted Jesus and asked “if you can” heal him.

Jesus replied, “Everything is possible for the one who believes.” Right away, the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9: 23-24.

The father may have thought the disciples were incompetent. Despite their bravado, they seemed unable to help. Sometimes other people, despite good intentions, can’t relieve our needs. The father may have thought the problem was hopeless. The boy’s disease was fitful, mysterious, and violent. We sometimes forget that the Lord delights in working impossibilities. The father may have thought Jesus was powerless. The man half hinted at this when he said, “If you can do anything….” Fear and worry whisper demonically in our ears, “God doesn’t care. The Saviour is powerless.” But the father discovered his unbelief. Sometimes we have just enough faith to realize our belief’s weakness. That isn’t great faith, but it’s enough to start with. If we have enough faith to recognize our weaknesses, we have a place to start.

Faith is based on the belief that we have a Creator. We understand that our Creator is like a good parent who loves us unconditionally and wants to protect, guide, and help His children. And like a good parent, He would never harm us and only wants what is best for us. When our faith is strong, we trust God’s love for us, regardless of our circumstances.

Faith requires us to understand and accept God’s expectations for us, brought to us by Jesus. God wants us to love others through genuine and sincere kindness and compassion. This means that we will be humble. We will not be critical or judgmental of others. We will not be hurtful or take advantage of others. Likewise, we will not treat others with indifference. We will help those who need help. And when we are wronged, we will forgive. If we love God, we will do these things daily, not just to those close to us, like family and friends – but to everyone. 

Faith reminds us that God wants us to join Him in heaven, but our hearts must reflect God’s love which we convey with our thoughts, how we speak to others, how we treat others, and how we live our lives. Faith will compel us to invite God into our lives and maintain a relationship with Him through prayer. We should pray every day and throughout the day. It is impossible to pray too much. We can pray for protection, forgiveness, guidance, understanding, and peace. We can express our love, our gratitude, our needs, our worries, and our fears. 

We should pray boldly and be generous with our prayers for others. Trust, believe, and believe that God will hear your prayers and respond. 

Don’t give up!

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”. Romans 12:12

The song “Que Sera Sera” was first introduced to the public in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 film The Man Who Knew Too Much.  Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart.  In the movie, Doris Day’s character sings “Que Sera Sera” to her son at the film’s beginning.  After her son is kidnapped, she again sings the song while trying to find the boy. Hitchcock intertwines the idea of “ques sera sera” throughout the movie, suggesting the couple’s chaos and danger is unavoidable no matter what they do.

Too many people have this type of fatalism when they pray. They think that regardless of what they do or say, God has made his mind up, so whatever will be will be. What does it mean to pray? Does it mean throwing your arms up in the air, resigning yourself to an uncertain fate, or are there more profound promises we can hold onto when we pray? 

Some have skewed ideas about prayer. The problem is that some of these ideas (such as those listed below) aren’t only wrong and can derail your prayer life altogether.  

  • No patience is required.  
  • Prayer comes naturally. 
  • Prayer is like a wish list for Santa.  
  • Prayer is a one-way conversation.  
  • Prayer is a silver bullet.  
  • My way is the right way to pray.  
  • I’ll live my life the way I want to (also known as the Frank Sinatra syndrome).

Prayer can be spoken spontaneously in response to events going on around us. But we must also make time to talk with God intentionally. Prayer must include listening and watching. If we trust God is listening, there will be a response; it may come sooner or later. When we pray, we must expect to get an answer, as prayer is a two-way conversation in which we talk and listen for God. Prayer does not come naturally, especially to the Western culture, which struggles with the idea of talking with someone who can’t be seen yet is omnipresent. Or those who believe they are self-made and all they own, or desire is because of their efforts. They may talk with God so He can address things they can’t seem to obtain or achieve in the desired time frame.  

Life has a purpose, and we can make decisions that influence the outcome of that life. We are not saved to give up when it gets tricky, as Jesus came so that we could live life to the full. Prayer is simply making time to be with God. We make time for many essential things, so we must make time for God. When we pray, and God seems quiet, we continue to pray, trusting God is always listening. Persistent prayer is about trusting God to lead and guide us knowing we are not forgotten or forsaken. 

One more hour.

Last week I had an enjoyable conversation with an elderly lady (she was eighty-seven years young). My initial impression was that she had peace and joy in her life, but as we talked, I could see a sadness in her eyes that betrayed some inner turmoil. We started with small talk, which included the weather, food and gas prices. After a while, she opened up and mentioned that she had been struggling because thoughts of her past kept popping up. Her husband of fifty-seven years left her over ten years ago, one of her children died early in their marriage, and five years ago, a grandchild died. She had mourned all those tragedies but mentioned that recently thoughts of those events had popped into her mind, and the grief was overwhelming. 

My new friend had been attending church since childhood and stated she trusted scripture and God’s promises. I listened as she spilled out her sorrow. She was not seeking advice from me but just wanted someone to listen to her. She talked about her prayers and said that when she spoke with God, she asked Him, “Give me one more hour of your comfort and presence so I can endure these thoughts.” She sought solace in God and shared Psalm 16:11 (NLT), “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” 

Focusing on past events may leave little room in your heart and mind for new experiences, including those that may bring you joy—focusing on the “what ifs” may lead you to repeatedly engage in the same negative inner conversations and scenarios. She wisely shared that thinking about what happened wouldn’t change the past, but she just wanted to gracefully endure the moments when our past disturbs us. 

Sometimes when you’ve hurt long enough, you may get used to the emotional pain. It may feel safe and familiar. You may have internalized it as part of your identity. Anger at past events can become comfortable, but anger is never soothing for your soul. 
Getting away from the things you’ve felt and thought about for a long time is not as easy as saying, “They don’t bother me”; the past is tough to forget. Scripture shares healing, joy and peace of mind may be on the other side of letting go, even if it is just for one hour. 

My friend reminded me that in our time of need, our Father is waiting patiently for us to go to Him for comfort, and He wants to hear all. 

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Choose wisely!

Adam and Eve are probably the most known names in scripture. They were placed in a unique environment where they had all they needed and even walked with God. They were created in God’s image, which included the ability to make correct decisions. When God created the world, He clearly defined right from wrong. All moral issues were objective and not subjective. Free will allows us to do the wrong thing, but there has always been an option to choose what is right. Adam and Eve were told not to eat from a specific tree giving them their first opportunity to actualize their commitment to God; would they trust Him or seek something more?

Scripture suggests the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil had tremendous alluring power, primarily in how it affected the senses. Eve listens to the snake’s seduction and is also attracted to the look of the Tree. She then takes the fruit in hand and tastes it. As the verses say: “And when the woman saw that the tree was… a delight to the eyes… she took of the fruit and did eat…” (Genesis 3:6). When Adam and Eve eat from the Tree, it triggered a new modus operandi for the entire human experience: the senses become more powerful than the intellect. And because all sensory delights are subjective, it was at this point that man’s frame of reference became personal rather than universal. Thus, everyone born later felt empowered to decide between right and wrong, and moral confusion entered the world.

Adam and Eve were aware of what they were doing. They knew that the Tree was off-limits. It was not that they were lacking anything in the Garden of Eden. So, what did they feel was missing? 

There are two ways to attain wisdom: either learn about it intellectually or acquire it through life experience. From a sensory perspective, the thrill of the experience is undoubtedly unmatched. But at the same time, it is fraught with danger. Do we need to experience every drug and every decadent activity to know it’s not for us? After all, we are all aware of how the result of these experiences carries the danger of permanent physical or emotional scarring. That is why God’s discussion with Adam and Eve after they sinned was not about punishment but consequences. Their removal from the garden was God telling them that if they choose to live without His provision and love, their life will play out differently than intended. 

So how do we choose wisely? We have scripture. Paul reminds us, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17. And we also have the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26.

 “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves”.  Galatians 5:16 

Pray, just do it!

I’m at my Denomination district church camp, and I have the privilege (joking) of working in the accommodation section this week. Our booking system is fully automated except for receipts for payments, done ‘hand-draulicly’. I generally prepare many reports, documents etc. and have used computers, tablets and even my phones to do my “written” work. As I prepared my first handwritten receipt,

I struggled a little. I had forgotten how to draw the letter G.  I have been writing/printing since I was five and remember the drills we did in school, writing our letters repeatedly until they looked readable. But over the past few years, I’ve been typing, and this simple four-line receipt reminded me how easy it is to get out of practice. 

Do you see my writing dilemma similar to an activity taught in scripture, such as ‘Prayer practice’. Prayer is both crucial and essential in our walk with Christ. We need prayer to sustain us in this world that is moving further away from God. But some may have become rusty at prayer. When they first believed, and someone told them of prayer’s importance, they practiced it. They may have read prayers written by others, listened to others in their community pray and tried to pray. They were probably a little confused about what they should say and how they should say it. Maybe they became self-conscious about how their prayers did not sound like others, so they slowly shut down and avoided prayer.

Jesus wanted to set the record straight on how people should pray. He knew the people had watched their leaders pray, leaders who had put on public display of prayer. They drew attention to themselves. Jesus saw this and called these leaders out for what they were: hypocrites. Instead of hypocrisy, Jesus offered His followers a safeguard guaranteed to keep their prayers genuine: “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6). Notice Jesus says, “when you pray,” not “if you pray,” suggesting that prayer is ongoing.
I paused as I filled out the receipt, realizing I was out of practice. I decided to write this article before I committed to typing it. When I was done, I noticed my chicken scratch could compete with any doctor, but I felt good. I was reminded that to be proficient or at least comfortable with an activity, you should practice. Some may not like the suggestion that prayer requires practice, but I can assure you that when you practice speaking to God, your prayers will become easier. You will stop trying to imitate others, forget about trying to sound holy and open your heart to having a loving conversation with God. 

God wants an open relationship with us which includes prayer. Don’t wonder when was the last time you prayed; start now. Go into your inner room and talk with God. He knows about your prayers and maybe how you have struggled. But He is loving and patient and will wait on you as you become comfortable talking with Him.  

Dr. A.C Dixon (bible expositor, once wrote, “When we rely on organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely on education, we get what education can do; when we rely on eloquence, we get what eloquence can do; and so on. I am not disposed to undervalue any of these things in their proper place – BUT when we rely on prayer, we get what God can do.”