Tag Archives: prayer

Praying for Faith (Resurrection is real, or all this is in vain)

Every Easter this tired trope gets trotted out that it’s not necessary to believe Jesus literally was raised from the dead. It’s fine, these progressive skeptics tell us, to embrace Easter as a beautiful metaphor describing the indestructible qualities of things like hope and love.

One example of many is found in the opinion piece linked above.  Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, says,

For me, the message of Easter is that love is stronger than life or death. That’s a much more awesome claim than that they put Jesus in the tomb and three days later he wasn’t there. For Christians for whom the physical resurrection becomes a sort of obsession, that seems to me to be a pretty wobbly faith. What if tomorrow someone found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie? No, faith is stronger than that.

Yes, Ms. Jones.   It would mean that it’s all a lie.   For if Christ is not risen from the dead, all of your preaching and mine is in vain (1 Cor. 15:14).   The faith proclaimed in Scripture is not one of sentimentality, it’s object being the stuff that makes up inspirational Hallmark cards.   No.  The faith found in Scripture of which we are compelled to receive is a gift whose object is the living God, through whom we only know what love is because of the life, death and resurrection of his incarnate Son.   It is a faith far stronger than sentimentality and cute slogans.

And it’s a faith that must be contended for.  Within myself, perhaps in each of us, is a wandering heart which all too easily falls prey to cultural accommodation. This is why scripture is replete with commands to guard our heart (and our doctrine) closely.

And so it is that this Easter I found myself praying for faith. Perhaps you, too, would like to join me.

Father, you promised that those who seek you will find you. Open the eyes of my heart today so that I can see you in all your glory. Give me the faith of a child so that I am never outside your Kingdom.

Jesus, I want to believe the improbable and impossible because in you everything exists, and nothing exists apart from you. I want to believe that you were there when all that exists came into being. I want to believe that in the beginning you walked with Adam and Eve. I want to believe that you saved Noah through an ark. I want to believe that you parted a sea to save your people. I want to believe that you caused the sun to stand still, rained bread down from heaven, made water come from rocks, spared faithful men from a burning furnace, and toppled a giant with a sling and a stone.

Jesus, I want to believe that you were born miraculously of a virgin, fed 5000 with meager means, walked on water, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, made the lame to walk, calmed the storm and raised the dead with your word.

Jesus, I want to believe that you laid down your life willingly to save me from my sins. I want to believe that your Father in Heaven raised you bodily from the grave, defeating sin and death. I want to believe that you now sit beside him in glory, interceding on my behalf and empowering me with your Spirit to destroy the works of the devil in my mind, body and soul and throughout your creation.

Spirit, where there is any doubt in me I pray you would guide me into truth. Give me life not according to my words but Yours. Make me to believe that the desires of God’s heart are to be mine, and that I will never know true joy unless my heart is beating with yours.

Give me childlike faith, Father, and surround me with your true followers who will sharpen me and encourage me to press on till the day we are brought into the eternal home you have prepared for us. Grant me to live each day emboldened by a robust faith that does not fear death because I know I am the child of the Creator of the universe who literally came to earth to give me the opportunity to become his child.

I ask all of this in the powerful, holy name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you now and forever. Amen.

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A Prayer for Sanctuary Cities

I try to avoid politics on this blog but sometimes it is unavoidable.   News this week coming out of the White House is that our current administration is considering busing immigrants into sanctuary cities.    Trump tweeted today:

Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only.   The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy – so this should make them very happy!

This probably amounts to little more than a childish taunt.   Setting aside the very well documented fact that Democrats are not advocating for “open borders,” the attempted dig towards a group of people or a city for having “open arms” should strike any follower of Jesus as unchristian.   Christians should be the most welcoming people on earth because we ourselves have been welcomed with grace upon grace.   Our adoption as heirs into a kingdom of which we were once alienated – based on no merit of our own – is a spiritual adoption to be sure, but one that Jesus insists should be reflected in how we welcome physical strangers both near and far.

Governments are not meant to be Christian.   They have a purpose which is different from that of the Church, but sometimes (by the grace of God) those purposes overlap.   Where the government fails to act justly – even giving preferential treatment to the poor, the marginalized, the stranger – the Church must and should be it’s conscience.    This is one of those times.

And so it is that these sanctuary cities may have in the near future an opportunity to live out in radical ways the grace of God.   Should Trump follow through with his threat, these cities will be inundated with people in need.    Often, our greatest ideals sound great on paper but in reality would overwhelm and sink us.   Who among us doesn’t give lip service to the goodness of Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek but when afforded an opportunity to practice it fall short of the glory of such an ideal?   We all have been there.   And without the power of prayer and the support of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we would fall often.

So it is that I want to offer up a prayer for sanctuary cities.    This prayer is really for any city or church or person who determines they will have open arms extended towards the least of these – fellow children created in the image of God, the Father of every nation and tribe and tongue.

Most merciful God, we pray today for cities across this land  – land which is not ours but Yours – which have felt called to become and remain cities of refuge.   If the plans of some – plans meant to cause confusion and strife  – come to pass, we pray that in your power these places would prosper.   We pray that you would rise up in these cities men and women of faith who trust in a God who turns meager loaves and fish into abundance to supply multitudes.   We pray that they would not succumb to a theology of scarcity but live into one of abundance.   We pray that you would fortify them with wisdom, patience, and endurance to fight the good fight and not grow weary in doing good.

Father, we pray for those families being torn between political ideologies.  These are mothers and fathers and children whom you know by name.  Grant them every good gift, Lord.  Do for them instead of us this day.    Wherever they are planted we pray you would water the soil and produce abundant fruit.  May the cities that welcome them prosper. May creativity flourish.  May your favor shine upon them.   May their fields increase.  May the spirit of peace and love, which casts out all fear, abound.   According to your word, give them every good thing.  

Holy Spirit, raise up more cities like these.  May the love and goodwill shown to your nomadic children serve as judgment against we who have closed the eyes of our hearts from seeing them as Your beloved.  Stir up in Your church a revival where we will never again be known by our political party but by our love.    May your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.  

We ask all of this in the mighty name of Jesus.    Amen.  

How is your time with God?

There was a long stretch of time where I felt guilty that I was not spending enough time with God.   I felt guilty that my “quiet time” was not very disciplined or that my “prayer closet” was full of cob webs.   When going through a rough patch I could count on some well-meaning Christian to begin their diagnostic testing of my spiritual state by asking, “How is your devotional life?”

Ryan May reminded me of this in his message this past weekend (I highly recommend watching it!   See video below).    As he brought home the point that God is everywhere and that we can interact with God and be infused with God’s wisdom in both obvious and not-so-obvious places, I found myself grateful for the wisdom found in this program of recovery called the 12 Steps.

Why? First, because through the process of working the steps I realize that I am utterly and completely dependent upon my Higher Power to restore me to sanity and sustain my serenity.  I learn that this is something that requires not only some “alone time with God” in the morning and evening (the obvious places) but also a conscious connection with God throughout the day.   The second reason is related to the first.   The steps disabuse me of the notion that God is only found in obvious spots.   Rather, they give me permission and even encourage me to seek God in the margins, the not-so-obvious places.    The steps liberate me from believing in a God who is waiting for me to sit in my recliner with my Bible on my lap in order to trigger some divine-to-human connection and instead introduce me to a God who is always connected to me if I will but ask for eyes to see and ears to hear.

Step 11 reads,

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Being in recovery is about deepening that connection not only in those quiet prayer-closet moments but also during rush hour traffic or on the homestretch of a work deadline or in the middle of a tough conversation or when the kids disobey or when the sun sets so brilliantly or when the food tastes sumptuous or the tire goes flat.

God is everywhere and willing and able to connect with us where we are, when we are, how we are, for who we are.

I’m not about to forsake my morning prayer and coffee time with God in my comfortable recliner each day.  Those times are sacred and holy and sweet.   But the other 1,410 minutes of the day are equally sacred and holy and sweet.   My problem, and perhaps yours, is that I don’t allow myself to see and hear God in those moments enough.    And yet I’m convinced that it is in those areas – the not-so-obvious ones – that a vibrant, fulfilling, life-altering relationship with my Higher Power can gain steam.     Today I’m grateful that Step 11 promises that this is an area I can “improve” upon.

I hope you enjoy Ryan’s message from Sunday as much as I did.  I think it’ll open your eyes to ways God wants to meet you in unexpected places.

The all important morning watch

Next to receiving Christ as Savior, and claiming the filling of the Holy Spirit, we know of no act attended with larger good to ourselves or others than the formation of an undiscourageable resolution to keep the morning watch and spend the first half hour of the day alone with God.
~ John Mott

I read these words during my devotion time this morning and was struck by their truthfulness.   I can testify that the greatest blessing or hindrance to my spiritual well being rests on how and with whom I spend the first moments of each day.

I can also testify that this truth is the easiest for the enemy of our soul to minimize, distort and steal.   If you are like me you have probably had that internal dialogue that says things like this:

I just don’t have time.

I’m not a morning person.

I will make up for the time I missed today, tomorrow.

I don’t feel like it.  I’ll do it when I feel like it.

I don’t know how to spend time alone with God.  It feels forced or fake.

All of these are excuses manufactured not from the Spirit of God but by the enemy who knows that if he can distract us from the first part of the day, he can have the whole day.

One of the things I have to guard against is the lie that I can bank up grace and spiritual fortitude.  I have thought at various times in my Christian walk that since I spent an hour with Jesus yesterday morning, and since I’m too busy this morning, I can coast.

But trying to stockpile grace when it’s convenient for me to do so, and expecting it to sustain me for the days ahead while I’m too busy works as well as collecting multiple days worth of manna worked for the Hebrew people seeking the Promised Land (see Exodus 16).

Why?  I am convinced it is because the One who created me and you knows better than we that with each setting and rising of the sun we must acknowledge our desperate need to abide in Christ today.   Apart from me, Jesus said, we can do nothing (John 15:5).   When I think that yesterday’s grace is sufficient for me today I presume upon the gracious gift of God, using it in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

When I wake up and tend to a thousand other perceived needs besides spending time alone with God I am saying I have the power to manipulate yesterday’s manna to be good for today.  I am taking control of a gift that was never mine to begin with.

The quote above from John Mott reminded me of a few key things.    First, keeping a morning watch is an act of will, not emotion.   There must be an “undiscourageable resolution” to make the first part of our day the Lord’s part.   There will be plenty of times where we will not feel like it.  There will be plenty of times where other things, even good things, lobby for our time.    But if it is true that apart from Christ I can do nothing, than even these good things must wait until I have spent sufficient time alone with God today.

Second, this undiscourageable resolution is formed, not innate.   It will go against our nature to lay aside a morning watch with God.   It doesn’t come naturally to any of us.   Hopefully you can receive this as good news!  You aren’t a terrible person because you don’t feel like spending time with God this morning.   What is true, however, is that you are human and acting and feeling precisely the way God’s word says you will.   The will to spend time alone with God is something that must be formed in each and every one of us.   No human since sin entered the world has desired this naturally but every great man and woman of God who experiences the fullness and richness of God’s grace each day have been formed into such people over time.   You can be, too.

Finally, it’s of the greatest good to ourselves and others.  Our Father in Heaven who created the days, who proclaims that His mercies are new every morning, knows His children can’t experience the abundant life nor have the capacity to love others well if we don’t first rest in Him.   The greatest gift I can give to those I love, who may be demanding of my time and resources, is to rise early enough to spend time with my Creator and soak in His mercy.

During my time at Pure Life Ministries the first task I was given was to spend the first 20 minutes of each morning with God.  Ten minutes reading scripture and 10 minutes in prayer.   Over time that was increased bit by bit.    A year later those 20 minutes blossomed into 90 minutes of the most precious time of my day.   It is without question the habit formed which is most essential to my well being and my ability to love others well.  When I neglect this, I, and those I love, suffer.  Leaders at Pure Life tell me that the number one cause of relapse is when people minimize this morning time with God and begin to think yesterday’s grace will carry over today.   Setting a time aside to be with God each morning is as essential to our recovery as breathing is essential to life.

I want to encourage you today to determine to begin being formed in new ways.   Resolve to set a morning watch and then taste and see how God honors this with not only a greater capacity to love and be loved, but also changes your desires.    Please feel free to share with me how God shows up in your life over the upcoming weeks and months!

So you went to the altar and your life didn’t change? Welcome to the club

I have heard it from others nearly as many times as I have lived it myself:

I went to the altar and asked God to take away my addiction to pornography (or insert any other compulsive behavior) but when I woke up Monday nothing changed.  Why won’t God heal me?

For many, many years I walked that dusty road between the pews and knelt at the altar, confessing my sins from the past week and pleading with God to take my affliction away.   And for many, many years I woke up Monday wondering why God hadn’t answered my prayer.

This cycle went on for nearly 2 decades until another godly man who had been down the same road I was on and was now living a victorious Christian life told me the hard truth I needed to hear.  I’m not sure if I had heard this prior to his entrance into my life or not.  Perhaps I had but simply was not ready to receive it.  Sometimes truth falls like seeds onto rocky ground and just lays there.  Sometimes it takes a great upheaval – like the loss of everything in my life – for that rocky, fallow ground to be broken up just enough for that seed to take root.   In any event, I was finally ready to hear from this man what I’m about to share with you now. He said,

Your kneeling at the altar is not the end of the fight but the beginning.  It is to say I am powerless to do this on my own but I am choosing to trust that Jesus will be fighting alongside me as I pass from death into life.   And anytime you are being reborn it’s going to be painful.  It’s going to be a fight.  Welcome to the club.

The “club” is real, vital Christianity as opposed to the passive, vapid religion I had long been living.   For far too long I had been under the delusion that if God really wanted me to be free from sexual sin He would set me free.   It was as though I expected some magic wand to tap me on the heart and take away all the compulsive tendencies.  That I would wake up Monday free from lustful thoughts and impulses.

But that never happened.  At least not for me.   I rejoice with those who experience such radical transformation overnight but my experience, and the experience of most people I meet, is that it’s not so instantaneous.

But it’s every bit as radical.

It’s radical if you understand the truth I shared above.  It’s radical if you change from seeing yourself at the altar as some passive consumer coming to be magically delivered and see yourself instead as a broken man or woman kneeling before your king to be knighted, and rising thereafter to enter the war from which you have long been absent or oblivious to.  

Monday is not the day to wake up expecting to be free from impure thoughts but the day to rise up and don your helmet and go to war, fighting for the first time on the right side of the battle, knowing you have beside you the one who already conquered sin and death.

battle

Turning your life over to God doesn’t mean you wake up the next day and your addiction is gone. It just means you pass from being dead to waking up in a UFC cage match. It means you finally enter the fight. It’s going to be a battle but one you don’t fight alone.

One of the first and greatest Christian thinkers in history, Augustine, is also known as the patron saint of sex addicts.  He struggled mightily with lust as he was coming to know Jesus.   In his book, Confessions, he describes well this battle to which our trip to the alter enlists us:

The enemy held fast my will, making it a chain with which he bound me tight.  Out of my perverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity.  By these links, which is why I called it “a chain,” hard bondage held me in slavery.  My new will, which had begun to spring up in me freely to worship You and to enjoy You, O my God, the only certain Joy, was not yet able to overcome my former willfulness, made strong by long indulgence.  Therefore, my two wills – the old and the new, the carnal and the spiritual – raged in conflict within me.  They tore my soul apart by their dispute.  (Confessions, Book 8).

In a few deft lines, Augustine brilliantly captures the hell of addiction.   What we have for so long been indulging becomes our master, and when we kneel before a new Master, Jesus, our freedom from the former life will not come without great struggle and sacrifice.   Being reborn is painful, and cannot be done alone.

So, when you went to the altar your life didn’t immediately change.  I am by no means saying you should not continue to make that trek to kneel before your king.  Do it daily, in fact.  Do it until – and even beyond – the truth of what you’ve read here, and the grace of Almighty God, explodes the rocky ground of your heart and you rise up finally willing to enter the fight that many of us, and all of heaven, have been waiting for you to fight.   Remember, you don’t fight alone.

Welcome to the club.

Win the battle in your mind

In the course of my own recovery and through counseling many others I’ve concluded this one simple truth:

our mind is a battlefield.

Every compulsion, every relapse, every giving over to whatever is our “thing” begins in the mind.   If I had a penny for every time I heard, or said myself, “I was having a really good day, and then this image/thought entered my mind and I….”  I’d have a lot of pennies.

I wasted many years of my life and did a lot of damage to myself and others because I never learned (and nobody taught me) how to win the battle in my mind.   In fact, I never really understood that I was at war!   While I often would say I was “struggling” with pornography what I really meant was this:  A lustful thought keeps entering my mind and 99% of the time I cave in to it.  That is not the picture of a person struggling but of being a doormat (For more on that topic read “Are you REALLY Struggling against habitual sin?”) 

If you are serious about kicking your habit of looking at porn (or whatever else you have a compulsion towards) you will need to get serious about a few things.  Here’s a short list…

1. Get serious about this warfare thing.   Really.  Some segments of Christianity will play down the warfare imagery in scripture, others glorify it.  You need to get away from both and simply, yet hugely, take it seriously.   A cursory read of Scripture makes it abundantly clear that there is a battle for your soul and there will be winners and there will be losers.  The enemy is always prowling like a roaring lion seeking one to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  It’s no surprise that included in this admonition by Peter is to “be alert and of sober mind.”   You need to know that when you determine to pursue holiness in body, mind, and soul, you will be entering a battle with the enemy who has studied you.  He knows where to trip you up, he knows what thoughts will seduce you, he knows how to cause you to stumble.   So be alert!   Take this warfare motif found throughout all of scripture seriously, and view it as God’s textbook written solely for your benefit to know how to win not just the battle but the war.

2. Get serious about your thoughts.  The bible teaches that we ought to take every thought captive to be obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).   Surely this is to include suspending those lustful thoughts (or other compulsions) and surrendering them over to the blood of Jesus.  Any thought contrary to the revealed will of God ought to be – and can be! – brought into obedience with Christ.  Do not fall for the enemies lie which says your thoughts do not really matter.   Jesus said that if you have even the intent of lust in your heart it is as good as committing adultery and that if you harbor anger you have committed murder (Matt. 5:27ff).  He also taught that it’s what is inside us that defiles us.  Clean the inside of the cup (which will include your mind!) and all will be clean (Matt. 23:26)!   Your thoughts matter to God.   And they will either lead you to life or shipwreck you again and again.

Know this:  Just because a thought enters your mind does not mean you have sinned.   As I said above, the enemy will bombard you with all sorts of schemes and make you believe you are justified to dwell upon them.  You have a choice when a sinful thought crosses your radar:  Chew on it or spit it out.    Keep reading to learn how to do the latter.

3. Get serious about fighting.   Your most valuable weapon in the fight against your thoughts is prayer.   I teach my guys in recovery and my church in recovery (because we are all in recovery) to pray instead of think.  When I would struggle with impure thoughts and had determined I would not be a slave to them any longer I began praying the mercy prayer almost with every breath I breathed.   It would be on my lips when I rose and when I laid down at night.  I would recite it hundreds of times throughout the day and even more when I was bombarded with temptation.  I would go to bed exhausted from praying but victorious.   And guess what?  Over time the battle got less and less intense.  Over time I realized that I was “being transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Rom. 12:1-2).  My mind was actually learning to think -and pray – in new ways.  I was taking every thought captive to obey Christ.

The first wave of attack against any enemy force is going to be the hardest.   And the bloodiest.   If you are new to this sort of warfare you can expect some casualties.  But don’t give up!   Surround yourself with like-minded soldiers who are fighting the good fight as well.  Call them consistently and constantly, particularly in the early stages until you get some traction (60-90 days minimum).   It won’t be long before you are the one others are calling, and you’ll be sharing your experience, strength and hope with them.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Phil. 4:8)

HALT and ABBA: Surviving the Holidays without relapsing

The holidays are upon us and with them a myriad of feelings, both high and low, along with people places and things not living up to our expectations, missing family and friends, having to be with certain family and friends, cold days, dark days, and debt days, all of which provide a perfect storm to relapse back into our drug of choice, which may be nothing more or less than just being a scrooge this Christmas.

But you don’t have to relapse and you don’t have to be a jerk this holiday season!   You can be free from all of that.   In fact, Jesus guarantees that anyone who will abide in him can be and will be free.

I want to offer 2 tips for getting through the emotions and roller coaster of the holidays.  The first one is an acrostic, which reads HALT.     Today and everyday, whenever you notice yourself feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (HALT), stop and check yourself before you wreck yourself.   When you feel either of those things it’s wise to stop and consider your motives and understand that you are not in the best place to make sound decisions.   So call someone.  Get around people.  Talk to a sponsor.  But most importantly, recognize this is going on inside of you and take action.   An added bonus: A friend of mine told me we should add a “B” to this for “Bored.”   I agree.    Be aware of your feelings and understand that they will lie to you.  You don’t have to be enslaved by them.

Second is pray.  I want to teach you a simple prayer Brennan Manning taught me in his book The Furious Longing of God (a book you should read if you haven’t already, or read again, and again).   In previous posts I’ve taught the Mercy Prayer, which is invaluable to a recovery life, I believe, but this one is just as important and very simple to pray while you are HALTing.    It goes like this:

Abba, I belong to you.

Abba is the word Jesus used for God, which means, “Daddy.”   Brennan, a recovering alcoholic, found profound healing when he realized he was “Daddy’s little boy” and that his Father in heaven has a furious longing for him, as he does for you, too.   This short, 7 syllable prayer is the perfect prayer to correspond with your breathing.  As you inhale – Abba.   And as you exhale – I belong to you.

Brennan suggests taking a few moments every day for the next month to close your eyes, upturning your palms, and praying, “Abba, I belong to you.”  Don’t try to make it anything more than that, as this is enough.

As you begin your day, or as you HALT(B), may this short prayer remind you that you are loved furiously by your Daddy in heaven and that this is more than enough for today.

Praying with and for you.