How’s your prayer life?

It’s a simple question, but it can be tough to answer.
It sounds like; “How has your talking to God been like lately?”

Emotionally it might feel like this: “Summing up your relationship with God at this point in your life.”

  • Bible reading (by comparison), is more precise and objective. 
  • How many pages?
  • How far along in your plan?
  • Which books have you been reading?
  • What have you learned?”

Prayer doesn’t fit into an Excel sheet quite as easily.

God means for your life — married or unmarried, student or employee, young or old — to run on the power of prayer. Prayer fuels the engine of your heart and mind. It’s not coffee, energy drinks or social media buzz. It’s prayer. You need God in and through prayer more than you need anything else. We will not do anything of any real and lasting value without God, which means we will not do anything of any real and lasting value without prayer. And yet you probably feel as insecure about your prayer life as you feel about anything. 

Prayer might be, at the same time, the most pivotal and most puzzling activity in Christian life. We know we need to pray, but we know we don’t pray enough. And we’re not always sure we’re even doing it right when we pray. The devil hates prayer. Our flesh does not naturally love it. Therefore, it does not come full-born and complete and passionate from the womb of our heart. It takes discipline.

The Bible refuses to give us one small, simple picture or pattern for prayer. Jesus never intended for his model prayer (what we call The Lord’s Prayer) to be our only guide or counsel for worship. It is a great place to start, but God’s word gives us much more material for our prayer lives. Prayer comes in a million shapes and forms. Prayer happens in seconds. It can occur for short moments in the cracks of our day and can happen for hours at a time, even throughout a whole night. Prayer is conscious, personal communication with the God of the universe. 
 
A better question than “How’s your prayer life?” might be: “Have you been enjoying conscious communication with God over his word, in your daily needs, throughout your day?” 

Has your relationship with him been real — not a box to check, not just a hurried place for help, not a vague, abstract idea hovering over your head and life? Has your faith been tying you to him in your heart? Have you been leaning on him and not yourself?

Dialogue is what is essential to prayer. Prayer makes a difference in what happens (James 4:2). Our understanding of prayer will correspond to our understanding of God. When God is seen as desiring to bless us, and when we acknowledge He is sovereignly free to respond to us, prayer will be seen as a dialogue with God. Prayer will lead to greater communion with God and understanding of His will.

God will respond when we faithfully pursue this dialogue. So how is your prayer life? 

Revive

I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’” 
(read Ezekiel 37:1-14)

God called Ezekiel to give the Jewish people a message of hope and restoration. The people were captive in Babylon, and he told them that God would gather the Israelites from the ends of the earth and reestablish them in their land. The people had gone through a period of critiquing their faith, and God brought judgement on them. They had modified God’s laws to accommodate their cultural surroundings and inclination. They watered down their beliefs to the point that they chose their preferences over God’s.  


The North American church is in trouble. Brothers and sisters in Christ are losing hope and walking away from the church. Many gatherings are filled with dry bones, void of life and hope. Many are held captive to cultural preferences that move them away from the God of the bible. Many seek to fit into the world around them and are deconstructing their faith, the new phrase coined by those wishing to rethink their faith so that it aligns with their desires. The church needs the breath of the Holy Spirit to revive our dry bones. 

God asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” “O Sovereign Lord,” I (Ezekiel) replied, “you alone know the answer to that.” (Ezekiel 37:3). Do you believe that God can bring life back to Christ-followers? Do you think that the Holy Spirit is given to followers of Christ to provide us with the power to be a witness for Christ? Do you believe our dry bones can be revived, freshly renewed, and empowered to be the person God created us to become?  

The Holy Spirit is our comforter, our guide, our equipper, the one who will protect us, the one who breathes life into our dry bones. Ask for refilling, a revival. Not sure what to say? Just go before Him remembering Romans 8:26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

Keep in line

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” Galatians 5:25

Have you ever found yourself in a situation that seemed so perfect you wanted to pinch yourself to see if you were dreaming? Your expectations were being met, you had a sense of accomplishment, and others may have been acknowledging you as a contributor to their happiness. Whatever was happening seemed unreal probably because too often, people, including Christians, go about their lives expecting the worst, or at least something less than perfect to happen. Many enter their world daily, predicting there will be a glitch that will derail their plans, relationships, or moods. So, when something good occurs, other world activities become white noise. For a few moments, they don’t see or hear anything else. PINCH ME moments are not ongoing occurrences for many, so when they happen, many struggles to accept them.       
 
Jesus said that after He would go to be with the Father, a counsellor would come alongside believers so that they could live for Him. The helper would enable His followers to understand and interpret God’s word, recognize choices, and help them live life with hope. The Holy Spirit is this helper and wants to encourage and exhort us. He comes bearing gifts for believers so they can function as the body of Christ and be Jesus’ ambassadors to the world. This helper also transforms us by harvesting His fruit in our lives, the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
 
Most importantly, this Counsellor has come to pinch us throughout the day. He wants to stir us from thinking that our jobs, families, or ministries are the final destinations. He pinches us so that we open our eyes to see God’s will before us. He awakens us to His reality, revealing how much of God is around us daily and how we can be part of His service. The Holy Spirit pinches us to wake us so we will look at our path. 
 
Paul reminded the Galatians that since they will have a heavenly counsellor, they should look to fall in line with Him; we should anticipate and react to His pinches. The Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our lives, and He performs all His miraculous functions as He dwells within us. His presence is not just for a few daily movements. He is with us forever. He will never leave or forsake us; as long as we react, He will continue to pinch. Our challenge is to not only thank God for the precious gift of the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives; we must keep in step with the Spirit to recognize His pinches and see and experience God’s glory. Our challenge is to respond to the Holy Spirit. 
 
Pray the Holy Spirit will pinch you often today and that you will be able to recognize it and respond.  

Lean on God

Have you heard people say that Christianity and the Church are just crutches for the weak and naïve; that they need them to get through life? A crutch is a medical implement used by people for support when injured. A crutch does suggest the user is wounded. A crutch is temporary, but what Jesus and His church offer are everlasting. If seeking God and going to church is considered a crutch, what better support can we receive, especially when it helps us learn the truth about the Creator of the universe who invites us to lean on Him while we gain our footing and to remain with us as we face a world that will hurt us again. 

Who is not wounded or injured?

Who does not need hope?

What do people rely on to get themselves through life’s struggles and difficult times?

People count on all things for their comfort or self-esteem, from material possessions, money, and food, to cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, and sex. Rather than being viewed as signs of weakness, many of these aids are considered relatively normal in society. Many of these crutches offer a short-term release from the struggles of life and sometimes only cover up more profound problems. To begin to recover, we need support, encouragement, and hope. We need to realize that we are created in the image of God for God. Trust and belief in Him can help us throw off the crutches that slow us down and prevent us from doing what He desires. 

Many believers testify to the transformative effect that becoming a Christian has had on their lives, including being delivered from some of the crutches they had previously relied upon. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites us to Him, to let Him help us with our burdens. He says: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus invites believers, through His church, to support others as they seek to cast off their crutches. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 shares: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up”. 

God wants what is good for us. He does not wish life’s troubles to cause us to turn to a world that offers temporary relief with a placebo that hides or mask our needs and may even make life worse. When asked why Jesus hung around the hurting, sinners and broken, He replied: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:33 

Jesus invites all His followers to help one another, but the truth is that Jesus never offered a crutch, only a cross. We must eventually move from our dependence on each other. His invite wasn’t a call to be a better person with high self-esteem or a plan to help us scrape through our existence. It was a call to acknowledge that the help we need and the forgiveness we all seek is to be found in Him. Proverbs 3 shares: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” As we grow with the support of other believers, we are guided to depend on Jesus. He is the one who delivers us from the crutches we have rested upon, and with the Holy Spirit’s prompting and support, we willingly submit to the Father’s will and trust Him. 

Stop playing it safe.

Writer Annie Dillard finds most churches to be “safe,” but she wonders why this should be the case. She asks: “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?” We call this place of worship a sanctuary, meaning it is a safe place to be. We love safety. And because of this love, most of us never actually put our faith to the test. We have a sanitized, sterilized, weak faith.

Here’s the big question: When did we as Christians get the idea that God calls us to safe places to do the easy things?
Where do you see that in the Bible?

* Abraham was called to leave everything he knew to follow God and was never even told where he would be going.

* Moses was called to go back to the country that wanted him for murder and deliver generations of enslaved people.

* David was called to face Goliath, a shepherd boy, in a life and death battle with a trained and skilled soldier, and,

* Isaiah was called to devote his life to a ministry that by all human accounts appeared to be a failure—called to preach to a people who did not want to hear Him. 

So, when did we start thinking that God’s will is an insurance plan, not a daring plan? We live in fear, and we allow that fear to cause us to approach the will of God with a better-safe-than-sorry mentality. We get trapped in a cage of fear and let those fears dictate our decisions; we generally want some guarantee before we are willing to step out in faith! If we think there are risks, we opt for the “tried and true” safe route.

So, when did we start thinking that God’s will is an insurance plan, not a daring plan? We live in fear, and we allow that fear to cause us to approach the will of God with a better-safe-than-sorry mentality. We get trapped in a cage of fear and let those fears dictate our decisions; we generally want some guarantee before we are willing to step out in faith! If we think there are risks, we opt for the “tried and true” safe route.

There is a fascinating account in Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew 16:21-28. Jesus had just quizzed his closest followers about what the word on the street was about Him. They report that some people think He is John the Baptist come back to life, others think He might be Elijah the prophet or Jeremiah, and others aren’t sure who He is, but they agree that He has to be one of the prophets. After hearing these answers, Jesus narrows the question and asks them, “‘ But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?'” (Matthew 16:15) And “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'” (Matthew 16:16).

Jesus didn’t call us to live safe lives; He called us to follow His example. He didn’t die to make us pleasant, safe people whose goal in life is never to rock the boat. He died to make us a radical people who can storm the gates of hell and come away victorious!

So, here is a challenge: quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.

Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-ordained passions. Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention. Keep asking questions. Keep making mistakes. Keep seeking God. Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution. Stop repeating the past and start creating the future. Stop playing it safe and start taking risks. Expand your horizons. Accumulate experiences. Enjoy the journey. Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can. Live like today is the first day and last day of your life.

Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.

Burn sinful bridges. Blaze new trails. Don’t let fear dictate your decisions. Take a flying leap of faith. Quit holding out. Quit holding back. Go all-in with God. Go all out for God. Stop playing it safe. 

Don’t worry, be happy!

In the late 1980s, Bobby McFerrin introduced the catchy tune “Don’t worry, be happy”. One verse “In every life, we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double” was similar to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 6:25-34. 

The 1980s had its fair share of troubles: starvation in Ethiopia, Chernobyl reactor explosion, Aids and Mad Cow disease, Tiananmen Square civil unrest, assassinations (Indira Gandhi), personal money problem and homelessness. The song was a message to the people of that decade to somehow overcome their situation by not worrying about it. 

Today we have very similar problems of political turmoil, civil unrest, pandemics and viruses, broken relationships, financial problems, homelessness, and so on. Some go to social media and proclaim, “I just want to be happy” and some well-intended Christians have replied, “God is not concerned about your happiness, He is concerned about your holiness”.  God is concerned about our holiness after all we are called to be holy people “Be holy as I am holy” (Peter 1:16 and Leviticus 11:45). However, the above sentiment has been shared in the context as if we must choose between holy and happy; that is a false dichotomy.  

JOY in both the Hebrew and Greek scripture is closely related to gladness and happiness. It is described as more of a state of being than an emotion. It is the result of choice. Fruit of the Spirit is joy (Gal 5:22–23) and having joy is part of the experience of being a Christian.

In this day and age, there is so much trouble in the world that there has to be another message that we bring, and it is the message of the fullness of joy. This is a solidly biblical principle, not some squishy fuzzy non-biblical idea. Joy is in the bible and the bible is packed full of Joy. 

Psalm 31:7 – I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.

Philippians 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice!

Life is not easy. Life has its hardships, difficulties and its struggles. And so you might think the message of joy is a denial of hard reality; like putting our head in the sand and pretending all is Ok? But the bible speaks about the hardships of life. It doesn’t deny the hard reality but faces the hard reality with joy. There are numerous verses in the bible. Here are two: 

James 1:2-3 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

1 Peter 1:6 – “ In all this, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials”.

We all have emotions for a reason. These emotions are like the oil light dashboard on the car. When the oil light flashes we don’t get mad at it and say, “I should have bought a car that didn’t have that light”. No, we know the light means we need to look underneath the hood and see what is going on. So if there is sadness or anger or anxiety that comes to us – we shouldn’t try to shove that away and pretend that isn’t there and just say I’m in the joy of the Lord. No, we look under the hood and face those things and try to understand what is going on. 

We can start with the words “Lord give me joy in this situation – help me understand this so I can learn from this and grow in this and then Lord give me Your joy so that the joy is full within me that I can FIGHT BACK with joy. If we fight back with joy that means we are saying there is a greater reality beyond the depressing reality.  “The joy of the Lord is your strength”  ” (Nehemiah 8:10b). It is our weapon.

“Listen”

Understand this, my dear brothers, and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness (justice) God desires”. James 1:19-20 (NLT)


A few weeks ago, I went on a spiritual retreat to a Trappist Monastery. They had not taken a vow of silence, but they don’t speak very much. I can count on one hand the number of sentences spoken to me that week. Many of us don’t like or even know silence because we are surrounded by sights and sounds that constantly grab our senses daily. But I realized the monk’s practice was not merely about silence but emphasized listening. Listening not only to the word of God but also the world around us and those we interact with. It includes listening whether we like it or not. 
 
The love of neighbour and God that scripture speaks about involves listening. It is listening to everything and being in touch with our surroundings. If we aren’t listening, how else will we hear our neighbours as God hears them? If we begin to pick and choose what we will listen to, we may be turning a deaf ear to the unexpected and perhaps unacceptable way in which God is trying to reach us. Too often, we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. 
 
Missionary Janet Dunn said, “Unfortunately, many of us are too preoccupied with ourselves when we listen. Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are busy either deciding what to say in response or mentally rejecting the other person’s point of view.” Dietrick Bonhoeffer warns that this “kind of listening with half an ear presumes already to know what the other person has to say.” Impatient, inattentive listening is only waiting for a chance to speak. We have all probably heard someone say that good listening requires concentration and that we hear the other person out until they’re done talking.

Often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to them seriously. Good listening is an excellent means of grace. Not only is it a means through which God continues to pour His grace into our lives, but it’s also His way of using us as His means of grace in the lives of others. Bonhoeffer writes, “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God. The best ministry you might do today is to listen to someone’s pain all the way to the bottom.”

Listening may be one of the hardest things we can learn to do, but we will find it worth every ounce of effort.

“When you Pray…” (Matthew 6:59)

When the Holy Spirit started to prepare us to hear God, it was the beginning of a relationship. Let there be no doubt that God initiated the relationship, but it grew when we expressed our desire to participate in it. Scripture shows us that the way we join with God is through prayer. Prayer is listening and talking with God so that you and I can understand Him and strengthen our relationship with Him. 
 
Most of us don’t start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves. Our growth is guided by others, attending church, reading books, and fellowship. So, when we begin to study our bible and seeking God, we carry all that guidance with us and look at God with those things sitting in the back of our minds. Most followers form their opinion of prayer by observing others and listening to how they pray. Some may mimic their prayer pattern if they think it is working for the person they are watching. When listening to others pray, we mostly hear them asking for something, so we could easily get the impression that we only pray because we need something.  The general approach seems to be to go to God in humility, ask for whatever we desire, and instead of ending the request with abracadabra, we say “in Jesus’ name” or “Amen.” Then, we wait and possibly don’t pray until we need something else.  

What do you talk about in your relationship with others? Is the only time you speak to them is when you want something? Are these the first words you greet them with: “can I have” or “could you”? Is that even a relationship?

God wants to reveal Himself and His truth to us personally and does this through prayer. It is challenging to be in a relationship thinking the sole purpose of the other is to meet our needs. Before we dare ask, we should know who we are asking. When we discover who God is, we will undoubtedly change our conversations with Him. James tells us we don’t get what we want because we ask with the wrong motives. He implies we don’t even know what we need, so we ask for things that impact us personally. He suggests God wants to give us something better. 
 
Why do we pray? We pray to know God and His plans so you and I can line up our lives to live in that plan. No matter what we pray, He is listening but are “we” listening to Him? How about the next time you pray, try listening to Him and ask God for His grace to reveal Himself to you. We can all pray asking to understand Him. We can humbly ask Him to grow our relationship.  
 
“Heavenly Father, thank You for putting it in my heart to know You. Help me reach out to find You. Holy Spirit, guide my prayers so I can communicate better with You. Please help me understand what I must do to know Your will so that our relationship grows. Amen”

Love as God desires

“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10b

What does God want you to do today?

Asking God that question is not the wrong way to start your day. Questions make us think. They help us connect, and they are the building stones to wisdom. When we use the internet to find out something about a business, we often click on the FAQ icon because it contains the most frequently asked questions people ask about that business. We may find what we are looking for or we can be left frustrated because our question, and therefore answer, is not there. Often we will jump to another site to continue looking for an answer because we had a question about something that concerned us. 

Does how you spend today concern you?

Jesus asked His followers questions all the time. Questions such as: Did you never read the scriptures? (Matt 21:42); Can any of you, by worrying, add a single moment to your lifespan? Matt 6:27; Do you love me? (John 21:16); If I am telling you the truth, why do you not believe me? (John 8:46). He asked these questions because he was concerned about how people were going to spend their day and the day to follow and the next and even how they would spend eternity. He wanted them to ask simple questions about life so that their days would be meaningful. He wanted them to realize their purpose.  

When we pray, read scripture, or talk with others about God, we can begin to understand what our days can be like. How we spend our day is a FAQ asked of God, and Jesus answered. He wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and love our neighbour as ourselves (Luke 10:27). Is it that simple?

How would we do that? We begin with a prayer of gratitude for being given today, offer encouragement and love to those we encounter, and look for God’s presence in all we see and do. When the day comes to an end, we thank Him for the blessings and ask if we can do it again tomorrow. 

What do you want Me to do for you?

The tenth chapter in the gospel of Mark records an encounter Jesus has with a blind man in Jericho. Jesus is leaving town and heading to Jerusalem when he hears a man screaming. “Son of David, have mercy on me! ” The crowd is trying to silence the man, but Jesus tells them to let him come. When they are face-to-face, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man responds, “I want to see!”. Jesus grants his request and says, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly, the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road. (Mark 10:46-52) 

Earlier in chapter 10, we read James and John (Sons of Zebedee) also request something from Jesus. They ask, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honour next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”(Mark 10: 37). Suggesting that when Jesus comes into His glory, they want power and prestige. Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been saying over and over and over that his way is the way of the cross, a willingness to give up what we consider essential so we can inherit eternal life. It is something that Jesus’ followers always seem to fail to understand. 

Why did Jesus grant one request and deny the other? 

James and John’s request comes from their desires. Their personal view of what a complete and good life envisions. It comes from what they want out of life. The request from Blind Bartimaeus is different. It’s a longing for wholeness and a life God has always intended for us. Bartimaeus gets what he asks for, not because he wants the perfect life. Bartimaeus is healed because he can see what he needs; the healing that God gives.

Ironically Bartimaeus isn’t the blind one in these stories. The disciples are blind because they can’t see that God isn’t about rearranging our lives and the world for our benefit. God is about rearranging our souls, re-aligning everything in us, and healing us from the inside out. God wants to open our eyes and reset our hopes and dreams to benefit the world God loves.

The difference between the two requests and results is the spiritual path. The way of Jesus is not about us attaining the success, the power, the fame, and the glory that we think characterizes a good and full human life. It’s not about finding the life we’ve always wanted. It’s about salvation. It’s about putting everything else aside to see the world as God sees it. It’s about spiritual healing and experience transformation. 

We’ve probably asked for plenty of things throughout our life but may feel Jesus has yet to deliver on our requests. We may think we rarely get what we want out of God. Maybe the problem isn’t with God but with us. Maybe the problem is what we’re asking. Maybe the problem is our answer to the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”